Monday, 28 May 2012

Giant Anteater & Fer De Lance (the most dangerous snake in South America?)

As well as the many birds seen, we have seen lots of animals.  The best animal has got to be the Giant Anteater which we got great views of and Chris managed to get some video footage of.

The Fer De Lance snake is perhaps the most poisonous in South America and can be aggressive, which makes it more dangerous.  The one that we saw was not that big being about 18” long and was curled up under a fallen tree, ignoring us as we went past warily several times.

This was the first Fer De Lance that Chris and I had seen, but not the first Birdgirl had seen.  She was able to confirm her previous identification of a snake that she had been confronted by in the Ecuadorian Amazon when she was only 8 years old.

We were four hours up river from the nearest town and were staying at Sacha Lodge.  We had used a boat to get to uninhabited tidal islands in the middle of the Napo River, with our guide Andres Vasquez and local Amazonian guide.  We were all wearing walking boots, as protection from bites but had not seen any snakes on our travels.  We were walking back to the boat along a raised sandy path through forest. I was walking just behind the two guides and Birdgirl was walking with Chris about 10 metres behind.  Birdgirl was walking a couple of feet to the left of Chris and suddenly did a little hop, jump and a skip to the right, before carrying on walking.  After 10-15 seconds, Birdgirl said calmly, “sorry about that (my little jump), but the snake made me jump.”.  Chris’ thought was “OMG! What snake!” but didn’t want to frighten Birdgirl and returned to where she had seen the snake, but it was nowhere to be seen.

Birdgirl explained that the snake had been lying across the path and she had not seen it.  As she took a step, her foot landed 5-6 inches from the snake.  It responded by rearing up It’s head hissing at her aggressively for a few seconds.  This resulted in the hop, jump and skip away from the hissing snake.  Birdgirl had assumed that we had all seen the snake as it was on the path and was not frightened as it did not occur to her that it might be poisonous.  We said nothing to her, as we didn’t want to spoil the rest of her trip and we had assumed that it was some kind of harmless swamp snake, of which you apparently get many in that area.

That evening at dinner, Birdgirl asked Andreas (our guide) if he would help her identify her snake.  She then gave him an extremely detailed description of a 1 metre long snake which was too wide to get one hand around, impressing us all with her recall to detail.  She said that it had made a lasting impression on her and she had a good long view of it.  Andreas listened quietly and then told Birdgirl that he did not know what her snake was and that she should go and get the snake field guide book from the lodge library.  After Birdgirl had left the table, Andreas exclaimed that on that description he knew exactly what the snake was, there was no doubt that it was a Fer De Lance, the most poisonous snake in Ecuador!  He said that he had only seen it once before and that it was the only snake that would have responded so aggressively.  Birdgirl then returned with the book and after looking through the photographs said that her snake was a Fer De Lance.  Andreas showed her a few other photographs to try and persuade her that it might be something else, but no, she was sure.  We never told her the snake was poisonous, until now.

Being from the UK, it’s hard to remember to look out for snakes.  In Colombia, during our first night walk through dense humid forest looking for owls, I noticed our guide, Avery, using his torch to search around the ground as well as the trees for owls.  I asked whether he was looking on the ground for owl droppings, so that he knew to look above for owls but was brought back to reality of South American birding when he said no, he was checking for snakes!

A Fer de Lance snake

Animals seen in Bolivia:

Santa Cruz
Brown Capuchin, Bolivian Squirrel Monkey (an endemic), Three-Toed Sloth

Chaco (near Paraguay)
Andean Fox

Amazon Basin

Madidi National Park – 900 m (near Peru)
Golden Palace Monkey (an endemic recently described), Fer De Lance snake, Brazilian Rabbit, Amazonian Red Squirrel, Red-Broker Deer

Trinidad
Spectacled Caymen

Barba Azul Reserve
Capybara, Grassland Deer, Giant Anteater, Yellow-Banded Armadillo, Red-Bellied Piranha (unfortunately no Maned Wolf which are seen later in the dry season!)

Riberalta (near Brazil)
Coral Snake, Brown Agouti

Also two yet to be identified mammels, a small badger kind of thing and a rat thing with no tail.  We have the spanish names so will have to look up.

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