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Birding Peru part 13 - Explorer's Inn and Out...

posted by Tim Avery at
on Friday, October 12, 2012 

August 27 & 28th, 2012 - Explorer's Inn Canopy Tower and Boat Ride back to Puerto Maldonado.

We met up with our original guide who was taking the group we arrived at the inn with to the canopy tower to watch the jungle til sunset or so--at least that's what we were told.  While we waited for everyone to arrive I took some time to try and get shots of a Pink-toed Tarantula at a nest near the trail.

Pink-toed Tarantula in the Jungle

There was also a Blue-toed Tarantula nest nearby, but that spider never came out into the open like the one above.  Several of the biologists mentioned there was a Paraque roost in the woods right off the trail, and they had flushed the bird several times.  I spent about 10 minutes looking but never saw the perfectly cryptic bird.

The path into the Jungle

We took off hiking through the jungle about 1 kilometer to the tower.  It was apparent that whoever measured these distances either did a terrible job, or had bad equipment.  I had felt the guide during the morning hike was definitely off in his distances and can say without a doubt it is no less than a mile to the canopy tower--which isn't a big deal, it would just have been nice to get some accurate numbers.  In any event the hike is easy--more of a stroll.  On the way out the SCREAMING PIHAS were at it screaming again.  I am pretty sure we passed the same lek as we had in the morning, and the birds were right off the trail again.  Such a cool song--and one of my all time favorites.

There wasn't a whole lot else on the hike out, I did hear some clicking that I thought was manakin-like, but I just wasn't sure it was actually a bird.  There are so many little noises in the jungle that sometimes its hard to tell what is an insect, and what is some ubiquitous jungle bird.  When we emerged to a small clearing we found ourselves looking up at a 140' tall canopy tower.  Finally, I could look the jungle birds in their eyes--I would be at their level and have a clear view to the tree tops.  This was it.

View from the base of the Canopy Tower

We started up the tower, waiting for the people in front to make their way up.  Up and and up we went--higher and higher.  And older pair from Spain was holding everyone up as they ended up at the front of the group--so the trek up the metal stairs took a bit longer than it should have.  As we rose the jungle roof began to appear around us--looking up I could see we were almost to the top where we could relax and enjoy the view.  Then everyone stopped.  I figured they were trying to open a gate or something but after a couple minutes I finally hollered, "hey what's the hold up?"  The guide responded, "this is as high as we go".

The Amazon Canopy from the tower

What?  This is as high as we go--crammed in a tiny stairway 130' above terra firme?  I had had it, "are you kidding me?" I yelled.  He responded that only the researchers were allowed on top of the tower, where they were conducting experiments.  We could not go on top because we may interfere with their research.  I was furious, yet another example of the complete LIES that the Explorer's Inn sold on their website.  How could they sit there and advertise a canopy tower on their site as, "an additional attraction for tourists visiting the lodge, since being able to climb up to canopy level, it offers the opportunity to spot different species of birds, monkeys, etc., and to appreciate the magical beauty and colorful sunrises and sunsets that characterize the Amazon jungle."

It was impossible to enjoy much with bars and metal strapping all around you--it was more like being in a cage looking out at the beautiful surroundings, knowing you can't fully enjoy them.  So many let downs when it came to the Amazon, and the tower pretty much put things over the top.  I had expected to kick back at the top and relax for a couple hours watching birds moving through the canopy.  Instead he told us we had 20 minutes to stand confined in the stairwell before heading back down.  Looking back it's even hard to get excited about the birds we did have here because it was all over so quick.  It started with several pairs of SCARLET MACAWS flying past--the lighting was beautiful, and the view of them passing couldn't have been better.

A pair of Scarlet Macaws gliding past

In a tree a couple hundred yards away a flock of IVORY-BILLED ARACARI were milling about.  The made several short flights but never came in close enough for a good look.

3 Ivory-billed Aracari in the distance

In a nearby tree a LINEATED WOODPECKER worked its way up almost 50' of open tree pecking away till it disappeared into the thick foliage at the top.  Several MASKED TITYRA flew into a nearby tee and then past.

This Lineated Woodpecker posed nicely for a moment

We didn't see any hawks or vultures from the tower, although I learned that the day before the group Sam and I were supposed to be with had a Harpy Eagle soaring and sitting in a tree for nearly 30 minutes.  The non-birders who really could have cared less about such an spectacular bird got to see one, while we got the common leftovers.  A small flock of AMAZONIAN PARROTLETS flew past, and finally we spotted a pair of WHITE-NECKED PUFFBIRDS that were visiting a nest and posing in the sun nearby.

My first ever puffbird--a White-necked Puffbird

The Puffbirds were a great sighting and I did enjoy watching them.  They are a cool family of birds and this was the first I had ever seen.  As the rest of the group started down the tower, I lingered a little longer, trying to soak in the experience, while hoping for a Paradise Tanager or a flock of them to come flying by at any moment.  It was my most sought after bird for the trip, and I couldn't even put in a decent search for them.  I snapped one last picture of the Amazon, then slowly made my way down the tower and back to the forest floor--dejected and upset about the way our trip into the jungle had ended.  The following morning we would board our boat in the dark to head back to Puerto Maldonado--for all purposes this was it for the Amazon.

A stunningly patterned Butterfly

As we started back towards the inn, Sam and I fell back from the group.  I voiced my disappointment to her, and she felt the same way.  This could after all be a once in a life time trip, and not having gone as expected, it was a bit of a let down.   Even the yelling of a BLACK CARACARA  and the chuckling of a CHANNEL-BILLED TOUCAN from the tree tops couldn't make up for let downs.  We passed the Piha's again, and I took a minute to record them.  It was just one of those sounds you can't help but appreciate.  A BAR-BREASTED PICULET let out a rattle nearby, and a suspected ORNATE ANTWREN trilled in the understory.  Several flocks of parakeets or parrots passed above the trees chattering--once they past I heard the rattling of a GILDED BARBET--one of my most sought after species.  It was great to hear--but one I wanted to see so much--and it was a possibility at the canopy.

Several tanagers could be heard in the trees calling as we made our way--one pair sounded an awful lot like the Paradise Tanager--but I challenge anyone to go through and listen to the various chips, chirps and calls of the tanagers in the area and see if you can differentiate most...  Tanager sp. it was.  We emerged from the jungle to the housing area and headed back to our room. Diner came and went we packed our bags, and were off to sleep.  Our alarm actually went off the next morning, and we were up in the dark, and in the dining hall eating breakfast.  Afterwards we headed down to the river, loaded the boat and were off in the dark.  The highlight of the river trip back was the pink sky over the Rio Tambopata as daylight hit the jungle.

The Rio Tambopata at Sunrise

Birds were few and far between, but a striking SWALLOW TANAGER was hard to miss perched in a dead snag, and a flyover ORANGE-BACKED TROUPIAL added a little color to the gray morning.  After making it to the dock, we packed 12 people into the van, and headed down the bumpy dirt road back to Puerto Maldonado.  PLUMBEOUS PIGEON and VARIEGATED FLYCATCHER were both seen along the road when I had time to look around as we slowed down form time to time.  Back in town we dropped the rest of the group off at the Explorer's Inn office, while they took us to the airport for our 9:00am flight back to Cusco.  AS much as I wanted to spend weeks birding in the jungle, I was glad to get away from the Explorer's Inn.  This is one place I WOULD NEVER RECOMMEND for anyone to visit.  I know that some birders lover the area and speak very highly of it.  But s a tourist/birder I can honestly say you money would be well spent somewhere else--more on this in my final recap.

At the airport we had to wait forever in line to check our bags--but it gave us tie to waste some money at the gift shops--after all who doesn't need a stuffed Piranha to remember their trip to the Amazon?  After making it through security and taking a seat we just relaxed and waited--and waited--and waited.  Boarding time had passed and nothing--finally I asked one of the employees for LAN what was going on--the flight in from Cusco hadn't left yet--it would be at least an hour.  Apparently our woes with flying weren't over with.  What was originally an hour turned into over 2 before the plane arrived.  There was some speculation that the flight had been canceled, leaving a number of people at the airport frantically making phone calls form the pay phones--It was just like being in Cusco again!  After eventually boarding, we were on the runway and taking off.

A different kind of bird--our flight back to Cusco

I snapped a few pictures through a dirty window before we climbed into the clouds, leaving the Amazon behind.  I knew as I lost sight of the jungle that I had to come back--I hadn't gotten to do the birding I needed to.

The Rio Madre de Dios from the plane

We landed in Cusco without any issues--besides being hours behind schedule.  Why Sam waited for our bags, I headed to look for our driver and see if he had bothered to wait around, the almost 3 hours since we were supposed to arrive.  To my surprise there he was holding a sign with the name "Avery" scribbled on it.  Things were again on the up and up.  I introduced myself and again as a surprise he spoke English almost perfectly--then let me know that we were going to miss our train to Machu Picchu--so much for the up and up.  As it turns out the hotel had gone ahead and moved our train tickets up--unfortunately they did it an hour earlier than I had asked.  I went into the airport and spent about 30 minutes wheeling and dealing with the person at the Peru Rail counter and explained everything that had happened int eh past 72 hours.  I don't know if it was out of the kindness of her heart, or the fear of me freaking out about the situation--either way she changed our tickets back to our original train at no cost, giving us plenty of time to make our way to Sacred Valley.

Our driver Charles who was one of the nicest people we met in country asked what we wanted to do now that we had the afternoon--we had paid for the time so he would take us wherever we wanted.  After the last few days, we wanted to go somewhere comfortable, that reminded us of home, and had something to eat.  So we went to McDonald's in downtown Cusco where we enjoyed what was one of the best McDonald's visits we had ever had--it was the first time I dared touch a McDonald's burger in more than a year, telling of how hungry I personally was.  And almost instantly the stress of the previous days started to fade--we were out of the Amazon and headed to Machu Picchu.

22 life birds in the last 16 hours / 194 total trip life birds / 245 total trip birds
Photos from the Explorer's Inn on TimAveryBirding.com

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5 Comments:
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great photos of the amazing jungle animals. Peru is a wonderful place to visit.

October 12, 2012 at 10:11 AM  
Anonymous Juan Gonzalo said...

Excellent photograph of the tarantula.

October 12, 2012 at 11:28 AM  
Anonymous Pat ODonnell said...

Man, I am so sorry to hear about the canopy tower experience. Not that they would reimburse you but given your experience, I would at least write a formal letter of complaint. Glad to see that you still saw some birds up there,though, especially Amazonian Parrotlet!

As far as the supposed Harpy Eagle sighting goes, I would take it with a big grain of salt. I wouldnt be surprised that they saw something else given what you have said about the guides and the unlikelihood of seeing a Harpy soaring around- I suppose not out of the question but in speaking with people who have studied the birds, locals familiar with them, and my own observations, I have never heard of a Harpy soaring around. When they have been seen from canopy towers in Tambopata, it is usually as one perched in the canopy or flying through it. It seems that probably act like huge cats or accipiters that hunt by stealth within the forest. Unlike hawk-eagles, they dont seem to call and soar above the forest to delineate territories. They definitely occur in Tambopata but when someone says that they saw one soaring around, I kind of doubt it (and especially because I have seen more than one guide misidentify other species for a Harpy Eagle). Not out of the question, but as consolation, know that there is a good chance they didnt see one! Sorry for going on with this comment- I love talking about Amazonian avifauna, especially from an area dear to my heart (Tambopata, not Explorers).

October 14, 2012 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

@Anonymous: Thanks! It was wonderful despite the issues we had.

@Juan: Thank you! It was cool to see one so close in the wild.

@Pat: Hey, it's all good! Thanks for continuing to follow my plight! I am going to write the owner, with links tot eh blog, photos, and reviews on trip advisor, etc. The false advertising is what really made me unhappy about this. Had it been more straightforward, and I had known what I was paying for--we just wouldn't have gone here.

That being said, I agree with you about the eagle--but even the thought that they might have possibly had one irked me. Several biologists saw one a couple weeks before we came along the river--its one of those, it would awesome to see on the 1 in a 1,000 chance I do! Oh well.

Overall had I had one more day, I imagine 30-50 more species would have been doable--plus I would have gotten a little more time in the tower, or even hassled them enough to take me over for a couple hours--I'm usually pretty convincing. When all was said and done I added 100 life birds in just under 48 hours--a pretty damn good haul anywhere. The benefit of not seeing 200, or 300 lifers, is that it leaves plenty for me to come back and see (Tambopata, not Explorer's Inn obviously)! I think it would be fun to go deeper in next time--perhaps Tambopata Research Station? I will have to do some research, and plan more thoroughly though!

October 15, 2012 at 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Pat ODonnell said...

Yes, it certainly sounds like false advertising. I know I wont be recommending the place to anyone anytime soon. Yeah, I think any birder would be irked! You never know when one of those monstrous eagles will show up away from a nest. There were at least a few times when I missed one by 5 minutes or so because I didnt go to the canopy tower at Posada Amazonas before finally getting lucky with it at TRC. To give an idea of how infrequent sightings of Harpys are, over the course of about a year spent in Tambopata, I saw a total of one and heard one other away from a nest. Yeah, TRC and the other REX lodges are pretty nice but more expensive. The service provided is just the opposite of your description of Explorers though and caters to your wants and needs.

October 15, 2012 at 11:54 PM  

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