Saturday, October 20, 2018

Ridge near Virginia Lake

We heard the leaves were wonderful at Conway Summit so we headed that way.  When we got there, we found some nice patches, but nothing amazing.  What to do?  We thought about hiking a trail out of Virginia Lake, but Susan suggested a cross-county route to an unnamed lake.  So, with a minimal amount of advance planning, we decided to try it.  It turns out that the road went much further than was shown on the map, and that the views of Dunderberg Peak, Gabbro Peak, Epidote Peak as well as West and Green Lakes were well worth the hike.  We also sumitted Peak 11274'.  On the way back, we decided to take a different route and explore some mining prospects.  This was also very interesting.  We started with views of Mono Lake that reminded us of the view from Dana Peak.  Next up, three cabins and a four stamp mill, and then on our cross-county route back to the car, we found another cabin not marked on our map.  On the drive out we visited some of the aspens, and found several arborglyphs.  Not what we were expecting when we started the day, but a very enjoyable adventure.

The unnamed lake with Dunderberg Peak on the right.

Bob with Excelsior Peak

Mono Lake

Four stamp mill

Mill detail

Our last view of Dunderberg Peak

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Peru - Down the Rio Madre de Dios

If you missed it:
Part 1: Peru - Being Tourists
Part 2: Peru - Over the Andes on the Manu Road

Red-and-Green Macaw
After birding the trails around Villa Carmen for the morning it was time to move on. A few miles down the road three small rivers spill out of the Andes and join to create the Rio Madre de Dios. At this point it is navigable by small boats even in the dry season. The Madre de Dios, after joining other rivers, eventually feeds the Amazon far away in Brazil. Where we got on it was a decent size river with rapids, twists and turns, and many submerged rocks and trees. When we left the river over 150 miles and a week later near the city of Puerto Maldonado, it was a large river that rivals most we see in North America. 

The Manu Road ends a short distance from where we embarked, so the boat was our only choice to continue. Our vessel was a 30+ foot motorized canoe with an expert crew. Our captain expertly guided the boat from the stern while his mate rode the bow to help navigate and watch for submerged obstructions when necessary. This team and boat stayed with us for the rest of the voyage. 

The start of the Rio Madre de Dios. We'll catch the boat a the beach on the right side.

We say goodbye to our wonderful driver Fernando (on the right)

Our transportation for the next week

The small port village of Atalaya as we depart
Our first boat ride wasn't far, just down and across river a couple of miles to the Amazonia Lodge. Here we spent several days birding the grounds and local trail system searching for lowland species. The hummingbird feeders on the grounds were particularly good with many new species for our lists. 

Google map of Amazonia Lodge location

Amazonia Lodge eBird list 1

Amazonia Lodge eBird list 2
Amazonia Lodge eBird list 3
Amazonia Lodge eBird list 4

Amazonia Lodge grounds

There were extensive feeders at the lodge

Fernando holds a fallen Oropendola nest

Blue-tailed Emerald

Gould's Jewelfront
Amethyst Woodstar
Rufous-crested Coquette
Violet-headed Hummingbird

White-necked Jacobin
Masked Crimson Tanager
Pale-legged Hornero
The next leg of our adventure would be quite spectacular. Our boat crew picked us up after morning birding for a long day on the river. We traveled 104 miles downstream in all that day, birding all the way. 

Google map of river travel

Yve counted all the birds, all day down the river:

eBird list for Rio Madre de Dios

The first part of the day is a little rainy

As we start the voyage, the river is exciting!

Sometimes navigation is a little tricky

The sun sets as we reach Manu Wildlife Center

Chestnut-eared Aracari

Getting off the boat at Manu
We spent 5 full days and 6 nights at Manu Wildlife Center. Sometimes we would walk the extensive trails from the lodge and other times we would use the boat to travel to a nearby destination. In a trip with so many highlights, it was hard to beat our time here. 

Walking across the bridge from the lodge to the forest
A short walk from the lodge was a 100 foot tall canopy tower. If you can get past the shaky circular stairs to the sky, the view from the top was amazing. And it always fun to be up at eye level with the canopy birds. 

Canopy tower

View from the tower
Tower view

Eye level with some canopy birds.

Gray-crowned Flycatcher

Golden-bellied Euphonia

Yellow-bellied Dacnis

The group pauses for a photo in front of a giant strangler fig. From left to right: Yve, Mitchell, Bob S, Susan, Bob W. Michael, and Fernando

One morning we got on the boat early for a special treat. We cruised a few miles down stream to the Blanquillo Macaw Clay Lick. This remnant river edge has a high sodium soil that the local parrots and parakeets come to each morning to supplement their diet. A large viewing platform has been constructed there for birders. Red-and-Green Macaws are the stars of the show, but many other species come too, such as Cobalt-winged Parakeet; Mealy, Orange-cheeked, Blue-headed, and Yellow-crowned Parrots; and Red-bellied, Blue-headed, and Blue-and-Yellow Macaws.   It's quite the spectacle. 

eBird List from Blanquillo Macaw Clay Lick

Google map of Clay Lick location

Getting on the boat at dawn

Sunrise on the boat

Clay Lick viewing platform

Mostly Blue-headed Parrots in this photo at the lick

Orange-cheeked Parrot

Red-and-Green Macaws eventually come down for a lick

Some photos of birds from the boat on the return trip to the lodge.

Cocoi Heron
Snowy Egret

Sun Bittern

On two other mornings we cruised in the boat to oxbow lakes not too far away. The first was Cocha Blanco Oxbow Lake. Here there is a platform boat on pontoons with comfortable chairs to cruise the lake with. Our boatmen from the big boat came along to provide the human paddle power for our morning out. In addition to seeing many still-water species, we had fun watching as our boatmen hand-line fished for piranha with chicken skin on the hook.

eBird list from Blanco oxbow lake

Google map of Blanco oxbow lake

Boat house and pontoon boat

Blanco Oxbow Lake

Look at those teeth!

Rufescent Tiger-Heron

Black-capped Donacobius

Lesser Kiskadee
The big show of the day on the lake was the group of Horned Screamers that let us cruise right up to them. Wow can they scream! The video is a little shaky - I'm not too steady shooting telephoto video from a moving boat...

Horned Screamer

The other oxbow lake, Camungo, also had a large well-built canopy tower that we enjoyed before and after our lake outing. Here too we had a platform boat with comfortable seating for the outing. 

eBird list for Camungo

Google map for Camungo

Canopy tower

Canopy view

On the platform

We estimated it was 125 feet to the ground!

On the oxbow lake

This is some tough birding!

Camungo oxbow lake

Yve admires the wildlife ON her bins. 

One more view from the canopy tower. The oxbow lake is on the left edge
Yellow-headed Vulture

Turkey Vulture
The canopy tower photographed from the lake
On the return boat trip from Camungo, Susan remembered seeing some Sand-colored Nighthawks on an island on the way down in the morning. We investigated and found over 100! 

Sand-colored Nighthawk

Sand-colored Nighthawk

Sand-colored Nighthawk

One of the critters in the forest you don't want to mess with is the Bullet Ant. Apparently this is one of the most painful sting/bites in the animal world. 

Manu Wildlife Center is a long way from anywhere, but the accommodations are excellent. The generator runs a few hours a day for battery charging and the bungalows have hot water and solar lights. Dinner each night by candlelight was quite fun. 

This isn't all the lists from Manu, but will give to a feel for the birds there:

example eBird list from Manu Wildlife Center 1

example eBird list from Manu Wildlife Center 2
example eBird list from Manu Wildlife Center 3
example eBird list from Manu Wildlife Center 4

Manu Wildlife Center grounds

Our cabin
Blue-throated Pipin-Guan

Blue-throated Pipin-Guan

Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper

Greater Potoo

Large-billed Woodcreeper

Pale-winged Trumpeter

Black-faced Antbird
One of the most desired mammals from Manu is the largely nocturnal Tapir. There is a clay lick several miles by foot from the lodge that can have them at night. We made plans to visit that lick during our stay. But luck was with us and "Vanessa" the Tapir came to the lodge two of our evenings there. Vanessa is a wild tapir but comes by the lodge occasionally for free handouts of bananas and apples. She has been coming to the lodge for over 15 years, and has raised 7 babies in that time. Pretty cool.

Vanessa the Tapir

On our last night, Mitchell and Michael took us down to the river to see the Ladder-tailed Nightjars they had found the night before across the river from the lodge. We had some great scope views with spotlights of the birds 100 yards away. Then some of the birds started actively hunting over the river and got a lot closer. With the help of my friends holding flashlights, I managed to get autofocus to lock on one bird as he wheeled by - and got a frame with flash. Pretty darn lucky...

Ladder-tailed Nightjar
As always it was too soon to move on, but it was time. We took our boat for another ride down river to the small village of Boca Colorado where we picked up ground transportation for a 12 mile ride to the Rio Inumbari, and one last short boat ride across the river. From there we had a van and pavement to get us to Puerto Maldonado.

Google map of trip from Manu Wildlife Center to Boca Colorado

One last time on the boat!

A short car ride to one last river crossing

Chaos at the river crossing

Crossing the Inambari
We stayed in Puerto Maldonado overnight and birded the local area in the morning. There were a couple local specialties to look for before heading to the airport. Getting the White-throated Jacamar was very cool. Many thanks to Bob W. for finally pulling some out of the forest for us. And who will forget the wide open views we got of the sunning Three-toed Sloth. Amazing!

eBird checklist from Puerto Maldonado 1
ebird checklist from Puerto Maldonado 2

Cruising the town on our last evening

The Rio Madre de Dios is really big now!

Birding the forest at the edge of town

Three-toed Sloth

Three-toed Sloth

White-throated Jacamar
Peru was amazing. Susan and I enjoyed our trip immensely and will go back for more in the not too distant future. We saw just a tiny corner of the country and only a fraction of the bird possibilities -  there is so much more to see. Round numbers, we saw and heard 575 species, with 450 of those being new life birds. Wow.

Our thanks to Manu Expeditions for the flawlessly planned and executed trip. Thanks again to Bob W. for inviting us, lo apreciamos amigo. To the rest of our travelling companions Yve, Michael, and Mitchell thanks for the wonderful memories and friendship. And to Fernando our guide, a special thanks for your knowledge, expertise, and the all-around good fun we had. I hope you'll take us on our next trip! Mucho aves!