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Birding Peru part 12 - Explorer's Inn Trails

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 

August 27, 2012 - Hiking the trails through the Amazon around the Explorer's Inn

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.

Leaf or Butterfly?  You be the judge.

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.
We heard Piha's at several points, and they were likely the most widespread and common bird of the day--being that they seemed to be at numerous locations along the trails.  I was able to recognize a few other songs along the way as well, helping to get a few birds I would not end up seeing.  WHITE-THROATED TOUCAN were heard chuckling at the tree tops a couple times. A BLUE-CROWNED TROGON could be heard hooting in the trees as we walked and at one point a SIRYSTES rang out from somewhere above.  It was birding by eat at its finest--the only problem was I didn't recognize most of the small zips and buzzes or trills coming form off in the canopy or deep in the jungle.
We stopped at a tree where the guide was telling the group how locals thought this type of tree was magical.  What I thought was magical was the flashing ball of red I caught zipping by out the corner of my eye.  I turned and caught it as it passed across the trail in front of me.  There was only one possibly with so much red, and such a squatty awkward ball shape--it was a BAND-TAILED MANAKIN.  Several times during the walk I heard clicks that I thought were manakins, but could never connect them to a species--so actually getting a glimpse of one was a good sign!

Yes, that is a hot Pink Dragonfly

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.

Amazon Forest opening at ancient oxbow

As the trek continued we finally came to a clearing where at some time in history there was an oxbow lake.  Now it was mostly low vegetation and just an opening in the endless green.  The group sat here to relax, but I remained standing and looking towards the sky and trees.  Across the opening I spotted some monkeys--which looked like 2 new species.  Sam and I were talking about them, but the guide ignored us.  About 5 minutes later he blurted out that there were capuchin monkeys across the way.  We told him they had been there the whole time along with another species.  He started to argue with me and say there were only Capuchin, to which I flipped through my pictures pulling up a picture of what he then said was a Squirrel Monkey--oops.

Squirrel Monkey sitting in a tree

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.

A pair of Red-and-green Macaws in flight

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.

One of several Black-fronted Nunbirds seen on the trip

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.

This Spix's Guan sat still just long enough for the photo

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.

One of the more vibrant butterflies at the river

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.

"Awesome" photo of the only Yellow-browed Sparrow we saw

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.

Apparent Tawny-headed Swallow on the Rio Tambopata

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

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Anonymous Pat ODonnell said...

Thanks for taking us on a walk through the forests near Explorers Inn. I cant believe the barriers that the place was putting up to make it more difficult for guests to have an enjoyable stay! I had no idea the place had become such a mess and wont be recommending it to any birders anytime soon. On another note, some nice birds there, especially the swallow! I have helped compile and maintain bird lists for the Tambopata area and that just might be a new addition.

October 12, 2012 at 8:01 AM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

@Pat: Hey no problem! I was quite surprised by the limitations they placed on the guests. Most of the tourists didn't seem like outdoorsy-types, and were more just there to say, "I've been to the Amazon". My guess is they have had issues with people getting lost on the trail system. This could be handled by simply creating a map to give to all guests upon arrival. My personal opinion tells me that the owners DO NOT CARE about making any improvements to the area, the activities, etc. The sad thing is the potential is there.

As for the swallow, I think it is the first for Peru in eBird, but so was White-collared Swift from south of Cusco. It seems like a number of the species that range into the south part of the country as migrants are poorly known.

October 12, 2012 at 8:13 AM  

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