As we walked through the jungle away from the clay licks our guide told us it was three kilometers back to the inn. Sam and I talked and figured it would be perfect--we could be back by 9am and then get one of the guides to hike out to the Oxbow Lake with us since we missed that portion. The odds for otters by mid-day weren't great, but it would give us a chance to see the birds that use the lakes and their edges, specifically Hoatzin. We made our way through the jungle making our first stop below a large tree. A pair of BLUE-AND-GOLD MACAW flew over making a racket. The guide thought they might be nesting in the tree, which was also filled with Oropendola and Cacique nests hanging. Shortly after passing the tree we flushed a flock of SPIX'S GUAN but only got fleeting glimpses as they hopped and fluttered away through the trees. As with my previous jungle hikes here and in Costa Rica, I wasn't surprised not to be seeing any birds in the understory--I just hoped we would stumble across a mixed flock wandering--that never happened. We did see lots of butterflies, and other insects though.
Coming around a bend we flushed a SPECKLED CHACHALACA and got to watch the ass end of it disappear into the tangles, vines, and endless depths of green. Occasionally we would hear flocks of chattering parrots, or parakeets overhead. At one tree the guide pointed out ROCK PARAKEETS flying over saying they were nesting here. Okay I guess-- the tree was like 150' tall and the birds were specks flying over. As we walked I heard the ringing scream of one bird I knew and recognized immediately--the SCREAMING PIHA. I blurted it out to the guides surprise. He said, yes that is exactly what it was, somewhat in shock that I knew some random bird of the Amazon. Soon you could hear 3 or 4 Piha's literally screaming all around us as we walked. I stopped near where one of the birds was and it sounded like it was just feet away--but you could see nothing--you could only hear the piercing scream. Since I knew a picture wouldn't be happening I managed to record the song and put it up on Xeno Canto. Check it out below.
As we walked on Sam and I both realized it was past 9. Our guide kept switching trails, but always said we were getting closer to the Inn. I soon came to the conclusion that we weren't going back--this was a babysitting walk to keep the group preoccupied all morning. Every time we would come to a fork that would take us back to the inn it was off on another trail--and most of these stretches of forest were bird less. There was one moment of comic relief during the morning march though. The German woman mentioned in my last post struggled every time we went up or down a draw. Several times I helped her up and or down when she couldn't make it on her own. Anyways we came to a small creek and Sam and I were at the front of the group--we crossed on rocks, then climbed up the muddy bank to a small overlook to wait for the rest. The German woman was after us, but she struggled to make her way across--and about 3/4 of the way those park shoes she was wearing taught her a lesson as she ended up on her rear in 6" of water floundering to keep her bag and camera out of the creek.
As sad as it was, it was also actually kind of funny, and we both had to keep each other from laughing a little bit. We've both have some pretty funny slip and or falling stories, but never in front of a group of complete strangers--and in the Amazon. The guide scurried down and helped her up. She refused to take her shoes off to wring out her socks, so instead spent the remainder of the morning trudging through the jungle half wet, with squishy shoes.
The guides were priceless on this trip for arguing with me. I would guess that the majority of tourists they get are just regular folks who are going to the jungle to say they've been to the jungle. They aren't birders, or wildlife watchers, or even all that interested in the wildlife--truthfully they are happy to see just about anything. So it was a surprise having someone who actually was observant, and was calling things out before them. At that point I decided to really stick it to him to drive the point home. A vulture passed by and I called out GREATER YELLOW-HEADED VULTURE. This was followed by a pair of RED-AND-GREEN MACAWS coming through the trees and passing overhead.
I think he got it at that point--I knew a few birds. A RED-THROATED CARACARA made a high pass over us before we finally ventured back into the forest. It wasn't long before we came to an opening along the river and there were finally some more birds. A LESSER KISKADEE flew low over the river and called after landing. A COCOI HERON was sitting in a tangle of sticks in the middle of the river. What appeared to be FORK-TAILED PALM SWIFTS were circling out above the trees, and a GREAT BLACK HAWK sailed over the opposite bank and into the trees. This was good birding. Back into the woods we made into some secondary forest--but surprisingly the birds were still hit or miss. Several BLACK-BILLED THRUSH sang, and one hopped across the path and into the woods. Sam and I fell a bit behind the group when I stopped to show her a BLACK-FRONTED NUNBIRD sitting silently out in the open on a limb.
We caught up just in time to find the group gawking at several SPIX'S GUAN hopping through the trees. I was able to get a decent shot despite the crappy lighting and a malfunctioning flash. Shortly after this one of the members of the group somehow fell behind and took a wrong turn onto a trail by himself. This was the type of person they didn't want hiking alone, and probably why they enacted the ridiculous rules of no hiking without a guide. Why we waited I caught a glimpses of an OCHRE-BELLIED FLYCATCHER before it flew off into the forest. GRAYISH MOURNER could be hear "mourning" while what I think was a RUDDY QUAIL-DOVE cooed from somewhere out of view. It was sensory overload for my ears. After locating the lost Magoo we made our way back to the inn--just after 11am. He told us the rest of the day was ours to relax and explore the area around the rooms--that wasn't going to fly. We cornered our guide to ask about going to the lake which he told us was impossible--of course it was. He refused to hire out as a guide for the afternoon because he was too tired from our morning death march through the jungle, and the only other guide available was sick. It was convenient--I asked to speak with management immediately.
It just so happened that the manager was in Puerto Maldonado, so I had to talk to the assistant manager, who said they had someone who could walk around the trails near the main area with us but that was all. I complained telling them we only had this day and wanted to make the most of it. He said going to the lake was out of the question. So I asked about the canopy tower--again, there was no one to go, but the guide with the other group would be taking a group there in the afternoon. I asked how long they would spend and he said it was typically up to the guide--but 30 minutes was the normal. I was stunned. So here we were in the jungle, and there was absolutely nothing we could do. Sam could tell I was pretty defeated at this point--as I just told them we would just do our own thing.
After lunch we walked down to the river to check out the butterflies. I was able to get a few photos closer than the day before, and enjoyed watching them.
As we headed back up the stairs a YELLOW-BROWED SPARROW flew in and landed nearby, disappearing into the tall grasses just as I snapped one crappy photo. We sat at the top of the stairs watching the river. BROWN-CHESTED MARTINS were circling just off the bluffs. As I was watching them a bird streaked across my field of view which ended up being a PEARL KITE. At one point I spotted a swallow that didn't quite look like the Southern Rough-winged Swallows--it wasn't as long-winged and had a brighter buffy chest and head. I wasn't sure what it was, but there was at least one zipping around as we watched. I snapped a few pictures and am fairly certain it is a TAWNY-HEADED SWALLOW, which is listed as rare--but also poorly known in Birds of Peru.
After a bit we headed back to the room and Sam decided to take a nap--I decided to say eff the rules again and go for a hike. I slowly made my way back past the hillside where they toss the fruit scraps. A WHITE-NECKED JACOBIN flew past me here--this was the only hummer I actually saw at the inn--and it also happened to be one I saw in Costa Rica in 2011 so it wasn't a new species. I slowly slipped into the forest and hiked off down the main trail.
It was the middle of the afternoon--it was hot and humid--and bird life was pretty much null. I spent about an hour wandering the trails and didn't see a single bird. Even the sounds had drifted off to mostly just clicking and buzzing of insects. I headed back to the room and worked on my checklist for the day, went through some pictures from the morning, and finally napped a little before we had to meet to head over to the canopy tower for the evening--despite the way the day had gone since the clay lick, I was still in high spirits from all the great lifers.
28 life birds on the trails / 172 total trip life birds / 220 total trip birds
Photos from the Explorer's Inn Trails on TimAveryBirding.com