Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Manu Road – a journey into the Amazon foothills, Peru

Getting up at 3.30am has got to be early in anyone’s books. Psychologically I was coping by knowing that I would be able to sleep for three hours in the vehicle. However, that was not to be. South American drivers refuse to put on the heating in their vehicles, presumably because they think that it will use extra petrol. I even resorted to asking Alex to ask the driver, but he just laughed as if I was mad. The road went through a pass at 3,600m and foolishly I had left our winter clothes in Cusco, thinking that these would not be needed in the Amazon. Our driver was dressed in a woolly hat, jumpers and waterproof trousers over his trousers to keep him warm. Our breakfast stop was in Paucartambo, the last town before the Amazon. Here at least we could warm our hands on hot drinks.

Birding on Manu Road

The lovely Manu Road

Birdgirl sneaking in a bit of reading

We were driving along the famous road to Manu, staying two night at Cock of the Rock Lodge at 1,600m. Here there was no electricity except for two hours at night in the dining room. The lodge had lovely cabins set in the beautiful grounds, holding some great difficult to see birds, hence the reason birders flock here.

Our cabin at Cock of the Rock Lodge

Birdgirl enjoying the balcony at Cock of the Rock Lodge

These are the Amazon foothills, beautiful mountainside covered in pristine forest with a road winding its way down through it. We drove up and down East from Cusco and then North, driving down and down.

Highlights of these first two days were the endemic Red and White Antpitta, Peruvian Piedtail, Black-Backed Tody-Flycatcher and Cerulean-Capped Manakin, Black and Chestnut Eagle, a Solitary Eagle on the nest, Yungas Pygmy Owl, Greater Scythebill, Black-Faced Brush-Finch, Slaty Gnateater, Yellow-Throated Tanager, Short-Billed Bush-Tanager, Stripe-Throated and Yellow-Rumped Antwren.

Yungas Pygmy Owl, taken by Alex Durand on our Nikon
Andean Cock of the Rock taken by and copyright Alex Durand

Brown Agouti

We heard White-Throated Antpitta but just could not see it before it got dark the first day and only heard it briefly distantly the second day.

We then headed down to the river, three hours downhill, where we were taken by boat to Amazonia Lodge. We passed a group of cyclists during the journey, who then overtook us and were having a drink in a café as we boarded our boat. This group of Brits turned out to be staying at the lodge with us for two nights and were great company.

Birdgirl enjoying a boat trip along the Amazon

Along the Amazon

The lodge was more basic than the Amazon lodges we had stayed in previously and after arriving, Alex told us that the lawn around the Lodge had chiggers this time of year. He had told us the day before that there would be chiggers in the Amazon, but I had not taken precautions for the journey down. It was of course now a bit late by now as we had not sprayed our boots and socks and were already walking across the grass unprotected and with repellent spray not on is.

We were then shown the shower and toilet block some way from the rooms. I had visions of Barba Azul in the Bolivian Amazon and mosquitoes entering the room as soon as you opened the door to go to the bathroom, mosquitoes in the bathroom and generally wet muddy bathroom floors from general use. The anxiety caused by my thoughts definitely pushed me to my limit (for the second time on this trip – the first at the basic accommodation at Satipo Road). We then headed out for some pre-dinner (unsuccessful) owling, when I got bitten by mosquitoes over my face and this was the final straw for me…I did not want to be there.

However, after spraying the room with mosquito spray, a good dinner and realising that the bathrooms were being cleaned again after being used by the cyclists, I even went for a hot shower with Birdgirl. The beds were very comfortable and after a good and long nights sleep I felt much better. There were in fact virtually no mosquitoes around the rooms themselves and we all escaped being chiggered. Maybe Amazonia Lodge was actually nice?

Enjoying the hummingbird feeders at Amazonia Lodge

Amazonia Lodge

The birding at Amazonia Lodge was fantastic with a day list of 98 birds seen during our full day. The second day we visited their 25m high metal canopy tower. It was not as high as those in Ecuador, but moved about a lot in the breeze, which I was assured that the tower as designed like this and it made it stronger. I was pretty glad to be getting down again.

Birdgirl not enjoying the Canopy Tower

I am sure this tower is not meant to wobble!

Amazonia Lodge Canopy Tower

Highlights of the stay were Long-Tailed Potoo (a night bird that I found); Cineruos, Black-Capped and Great Tinamou (seen on the same wide path, two within a couple of minutes of each other), Koepck’s Hermit (an endemic), Scarlet, Blue-Headed and Military Macaw, Bamboo and Bluish-Slate Antshirke, the tiny and rare Rufous-Breasted Piculet, Amazonian and Thrush-Like Antpitta, the tiny hummer Rufous-Crested Coquette with it’s amazing hairdo and a very obliging Hairy-Crested Antbird with it’s enormous eyes and hairy head.

Great Tinamou taken by and copyright Alex Durand

Long-Tailed Potoo taken by and copyright Alex Durand

Rufous-Creasted Coquette taken by Alex Durand on our Nikon

Rufous-Creasted Coquette taken by and copyright Alex Durand

White-Necked Jacobin taken by and copyright Alex Durand

Long-Tailed Hermit taken by and copyright Alex Durand

A bit of Amazon birding

It was certainly hotter at 700m and it made me realise that our next trip to low land Amazon at 200m was going to be very hot and sticky.

Time to leave Amazonia Lodge

We then drove back up to Manu Paradise Lodge, just across the river from Cock of the Rock Lodge but newer, modern but without its own trails. Our room had windows across the whole of one wall and most of another two walls.

On the way we passed Andy Marshall and his crew birding at the roadside. They were on their way to Amazonia Lodge, so we were not going to spend any time with them. We didn’t see Andy until we were driving by so were only able to shout hello through the window as we passed. We also had a successful stop for Olive Finch, another tough bird.

The next day was a tough and disappointing day. This happens in birding. We had seen a lot of the species on our way down and so it was inevitable that it would be the difficult to see ones left. Of the two birds that would have been lifers, one I saw badly and one I missed completely. We returned to the lodge at 10.30am a little despondent, but at least had a few hours off to catch up with home education, rest and watch the hummingbird feeders from our beds.

The plan for the afternoon and evening was to head up the hillside for another try for the Antpitta, Andean Potoo and Rufescent Screech Owl. We had another quiet afternoon not even hearing the Antpitta and it seemed like also no luck with night birds. At the very last stop, Birdgirl and I waited in the vehicle expecting no luck when we suddenly had a bang on the window. We jumped out of the window and were lucky enough to see a relocated Rufescent Screech Owl sitting in a tree.

To finish the day, it then started to pour with rain: the sort of rain that you only get in the tropics. We only had to run from the vehicle to the dining room but all got soaked even in our rain gear.

The next morning we had another early start, so that we could start the day birding at a higher elevation. Here we saw Stripe-Faced Wood-Quail, Rufous-Capped Thornbill and Fulvous Wren.

It was then time to head back on our long drive back to Cusco after a great 7 days. We had a quick stop at Huacarpay Lake, where we even managed to see a couple of new birds.

Back in Cusco, we went out for an Indian meal close to the main square. When we went in, they explained that it was buffet only but that they had plenty of vegetarian food. However it was $70 sol each (almost $30 US each), I explained that this was a bit pricy for us as we were just going to eat a bit of veggie food. On our way out, I saw a sign and realised that the price was in fact a far more reasonable $17 sol each. They must have thought we were right tight a***s! I had to go back and explain the mistake before we sat down again.

Chapati anyone?

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