South-East Peru birding

More birding at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica

Due to my many recent trips, the continuation of the reports from our stay around my birthday in July at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica  near Puerto Maldonado has become a bit delayed.  Here are the previous reports.

Anyway, I have looked through my photos from the trip and it brings back good memories. I believe one should be absolutely clear, so I should make it known that the whole family was invited to stay there. My task was to blog about our experience and also make suggestions to Inkaterra how to reach birders and make improvements for birders.
Inkaterra, under the direction of conservationist and visionary luxury hotels entrepreneur Jose Koechlin, has been of the forefront of making birder-friendly lodges in Peru. Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel is of course the flagship with all the hummingbird feeders and in reality the first hotel in Peru that implemented feeders extensively to became a tourist atraction.  So while Pueblo Hotel is ever so famous among birders, the luxury lodge Reserva Amazonica near Tambopata is lesser known. Very few birders have visited there.

As mention in the first post above Inkaterra is constructing a new lodge – in the economy bracket (still probably over US$100/night with full board) at Concepcion – even closer to Maldonado (so close that there is cell phone reception!!!) that shall be ready in the beginning of 2011. This means that there are great resources available in a combined program of the two lodges. Or using one lodge and visit the other.

What makes Inkaterra different?

    Organic Wine at Reserva  Amazonica

  • Luxurious treatment. There is even a spa! Sure the lodges are costly, but really not much more costly than a fancy bird tour with bird guide.
  • Ample material available for birders  such as checklists, bird call CD:s and plates with the most common birds – so even non birders can be introduced to the birds this way.
  • Eco Eco Eco. Everything is planned in detail to minimize the impact. You get a waterbottle you can fill up as often as you want. you don’t have to buy loads of plastic bottles of potable water. Heck, you can even buy “organic wine” in the restaurant.
  • A la carte menue. Excellent choices, free fruit juices with the meals.
  • Ambiance music in the dining room is by Peruvian musicians. Some of these music productions have been sponsored by Inkaterra.
  • Ample cooperation with researchers in different fields. For instance a Flora over the plants of the reserve has been produced with Missouri Botanical Gardens and collaboration of botanists from Cuzco.
  • The best gift shop I have ever seen in a jungle lodge.  Bring the credit card!
  • Fantastic and very helpful staff
  • Child friendly – in spite of not specifically targeting to families, we had no problems with Luciana (three and a half year old) and Anahi (1 year old) and the staff was marvelous.
  • Resident guides that know birds and have equipment such as Jesus and Percy. You can therefore bring a non-birding spouse and your family.

The cabins were very spacious and comfortable. The kids and Elita loved the hammock.

Birding Highlights

  • Canopy walkway – for the birds in the tree tops
  • Boardwalk into an aguajal – a palm swamp
  • Lago Sandoval – although the walk is long – a huge lake that has Giant Otters.
  • The creek at Concepcion – a very good alternative to Sandoval and much closer without a long walk.
  • The bamboo birding available at Concepcion and Sandoval lake.

Canopy Walkway

The canopy walkway is without doubt the best attraction at InkaTerra. Luciana and Elita loved it, while Anahi stayed with one of the girls of the lodge.
Sturdy staircase up to the Inkaterra Canopy Walkway. Gunnar and LucianaThe staircase to reach the the walkway is very sturdy and safe. Luciana loved it!

Canopy Walkway Reserva Amazonica Gunnar Hanging bridges in the treetops. Very well built.

View from Canopy walkway

Here is a view from the highest platform (taken with my iphone) from where we watched toucans, aracaris, tanagers, woodpeckers and woodcreepers.

Luciana birding at Reserva Amazonica Canopy Tower Best to bring a telescope to get good views of more distant birds.  Luciana added several birds to her increasing Peru list.

Striolated Puffbird Nystalus striolatus. Digiscoped at Canopy Walkway Reserva Amazonica How many 3 and a half year olds do you know that have seen Striolated Puffbird? Digiscoped (with too high ISO)

Some animals found near the lodge itself

How often do you see a Tinamou? This Great Tinamou was surprisingly easy to see from a boardwak from the kitchen over a little moist area with Heliconias.

Gray-necked Wood-Rail in the clearing.

Brown Agouti Dasyprocta variegata Reserva Amazonica Madre de DiosBrown Agouti in the clearing. There were several running around between the cabins.  Yes, it is a rodent!

Rainbow Boa Epicrates cenchria

One mid-morning we were called by the staff. The had found a Rainbow Boa near the administration. Beautiful and harmless.

Liophis reginae Common Swampsnake

The only other snake we saw was this inoffensive Common Swampsnake Liophis reginae.

Some of the staff looking after Anahi!

Jesus the birder guide at Inkaterra  Reserva Amazonica and Anahi

Here is our bird guide Jesus with Anahi.

Barman Tony , waiter Sherlock and Anahi Barnman Tony – who spoke excellent English – in spite never been outside of Peru and Sherlock the waiter – who has heard Holmes mentioned in combination with his first name more than once…… Look how spacious the dining area is. Lots of room for Anahi to crawl around and explore.

Diana and Anahi Lovely Diana met us in Puerto Maldonado. She fell in love with Anahi and took every opportunity to kidnap her for a while.

Final thoughts

Although only 19km east of Puerto Maldonado, there is a surprising abundance of birdlife. I think birders who bring their non-birding spouses will love Reserva Amazonica combined with new lodge in construction and yet yield a very good species list.  Sure, there are less large macaws compared to Manu or Tambopata, but this is out-weighed  by the extreme comfort available.

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Change of plan

Sunbittern Eurypyga helias - Tambopata Alex Durand

Sunbittern is one of the birds that is easily seen at the new Lodge that is being built near Puerto Maldonado. Photo: Alex Durand

Sometimes one has to make a change of plan. A great idea needs to be modified because the external conditions have changed. The initial conditions two years ago was that the communities of Amarakaeri  reserve had four lodges spread out along the eco-touristy fluvial route down the Alto Madre de Dios river to the Blanquillo area and the spectacular Macaw-clay lick, Giant Otter lake , the Tapir clay-lick and 12 species of monkeys. This is the heart of the wild Manu at the edge of Manu National Park and the richest, most bio-diverse place on earth. Finally, the indigenous communities had the means of getting their piece of the cake of the lucrative eco-tourism industry. Had they really?

I was invited to fam trip (“fam” is tour operator lingo for familiarizing trip) by the community company Wanamei two years ago and it became very clear already on that tour that the communities would not be very prepared to run the lodges with all the logistics involved. They needed a commercial partner. Kolibri Expeditions had sustained talks with Wanamei about starting to market the route to birders.  Many birders are prepared to take some logistical deficiencies, as long as the birding yield is great. This way the communities would slowly get into the operation and do it well.

To market the product I organized a big give-away of one free trip per departure to prominent bird bloggers as well as Twitter and Facebook users, who would help spreading the word on Social Media platforms. We also offered a pretrip to young birders at a much reduced price – with the idea that young birders would be even more resilient to logistical problems as long as they saw the birds.

So far, in theory, this looked interesting and feasible as well as a novel marketing approach. We just finished the first two trips in May. One Young Birder trip on May 17 and the first regular departure for bloggers with Bill Lynch as host on May 23.  The coming hosts and takers of these trips are of course curious to know how it went and what was seen, why I will deal with this below.|

I shall principally deal with the logistics here. The birding result from the trip shall be seen on the Facebooks, blogs and Flickr accounts of the participants.

Here are the names of the participants of each group and their Facebook and Flickr accounts. For Facebook you will need to be friends with them to see the photos and walls.

Young birders:

Alex Harper          Facebook

Ross Gallardy       Facebook

Josh Wentz          Facebook

Briana Adams       Facebook

Blogging trip.

Josh Shramo         Facebook

Bill Lynch               Facebook Flickr

Dana Patterson    Facebook

Logistics.

Maybe I have not been all that clear but running a rain forest lodge is a logistical nightmare, especially in the Manu area. Supplies can only be brought in by truck/air and boat. It is expensive. Contact with outer world (Cusco) is via short-wave radio with a minor obstacle in between – the Andes! Reception is often very poor and it may be days before a message can actually come across. Furthermore, everyone else (the competion and the rivals) will hear about your logistic deficiencies (more common than organization). Some of the more renowned lodges have put in Satellite Telephone/Internet services which of course is the solution to connectivity problems. But in order to afford the service there is a need of a continuous stream of visitors. It’s a Catch-22.

When you put indigenous community into the equation there is yet another factor. Community in the Amazon doosn’t exist. The communities we see today are families lumped together by the church or the  geo-political “progress”.  We need your oil, Indian!

In reality, the natives in the amazon are grouped by their kin. Their family or the clan is what is important. This is a major factor why community projects imposed from the outside rarely are successful.

Budget Manu Lodges.

Shintuya.

End of the Manu road. Worked well. This lodge has been in used almost continuously for two years and the community now has some experience of managing it. The birding is very good along the roadside and at the lodge itself. We only stayed one night here, but may opt to two nights in the future.

Centro Medicina Tradicional.

Situated on the other side of a river island. The river arm next to the lodge has been cut off, so it was hard to get there.  Time was wasted on the first Young birder trip and the second trip did not even try. A nearby budget lodge called Yanayacu was used instead. They were a bit unprepared for our arrival but did provide showers and beds with mosquito netting.

The toilet had a huge Tarrantula nesting, which maybe is not the kind of jungle experience the clients want.

Charro.

I am sad to learn that this lodge could not be used at all. I was very impressed by the birding here two years ago and our guide Alex Durand praised the place with great birds that included Elusive Antpitta.
The trail was overgrown now and hard work. The young birders did see some good birds here, but the boat staff headed on the lodge area to see it was totally deserted without beds. The first group decided to head on to Blanco Lodge and the second group did not bother to even try.

Blanco Lodge.

This is the key lodge in the system of lodges as it is very close to macaw clay lick and the Giant Otter lake of Cocha Blanco. Furthermore there is a tower nearby overlooking the small Cocha Nueva lake. We knew in before hand that the water supply to the lodge was not working, as all the tubing was broken. When the lodge was build all the PVC tubes were not laid in deep trenches but too close to the ground, why people later have trod on them resulting in smashed tubes.

The cabins and the main dining-hall/kitchen building were infested by termites. While the young birders found that quite fascinating, it was not at all appreciated by Bill Lynch’s group. The mosquito nets were not present with the first group, while some mosquito nets were arranged by the boatmen of the second group.

After hearing of some of the problems of the first group, I made arrangements to let second group to come back via Amazonia Lodge at the bottom of Manu road. While this was appreciated and added many good observations it also lead to more travel time. Furthermore, Bill Lynch’s group had bad luck with the weather. A Patagonian cold front known as friaje was present during most of their trio, which lowered the general birding activity. The Young birder group were lucky with a massive Army Antswarm at Blanco which positively added to their experience. Both groups saw Giant Otter and visited the Macaw Lick. The macaws at the macaw lick never came to the mud wall to digest the clay, but kept flying around perching on nearby brances.

Operating problems

All this show that there are severe problems operating this trip, and frankly I don’t think it is worth our while, if the lodges are not accessible and improved. We thought we were going to be able to arrive some agreement with community company Wanamei, who managed the set-up, however some of the individual communities are no longer interested in having Wanamei as operator and prefer to make a deal directly with individual companies.  This makes our participation as lodge operators more difficult as we wanted to operate a network of lodges. It is no problem of buy the services of another operator though once they get strarted, but to me it seems likely that CMT and Charro are decaying even more as they are less attractive for non-birders. Blanco can possibly be turned around because of its strategic position, but it will take some while before it is offered to the public and as good or better than other nearby more basic options.

Another complaint was that was that the transport sections were too long. The lodges lying between  Shintuya and Blanco was too log without CMT and Charro as stepping stone. Too much time is lost in a program as short as only 8 days if the lodges are too far in between. In any case, I shall have to make it clear in the programs that there is a lot of travel.

Alternative program – Budget Tambopata

We still have many booked trips for the community programs, why I must find alternatives for these.  The costs of the Manu program with alternative lodges will simply become too expensive, especially if the group size is less than 7 people. What further make it difficult to operate within the budget I originally set for the trips, is the fact that the flight prices for foreigners with LAN have increased since last year, and the alternative airline to Puerto Maldonado – Star Peru – does not give return prices for open jaw routes.

Suddenly the perfect alternative emerged from nowhere, solving many issues of the deficient community program. The brothers of Kolibri Expeditions’s top guide Alex Durand are building a lodge in vicinity of the Infierno community near Puerto Maldonado. This is just a stone’s throw away from the more famous Posada Amazonas, with access to Giant Otter lake and macaw lick by 30 minutes of boat on the Tambopatata .  Right now it is more of a camp than a lodge, although cabins are being built. Having said this, they have a dining room and kitchen, toilets and showers, and a platform with beds and mosquito netting. The Young birders spent two nights here and the report the trail system was excellent. Alex Duran made a 3 day recce to check what birds are there and compiled a birdlist of 370 species. Birdwise there is no difference to Manu.  There is good bamboo at the lodge with all the specialist birds. The main advantage with Manu is Tapir and the large number of monkeys. You will see monkeys in Tambopata as well, but there will be fewer species.

Purus Jacamar - Galbalcyrhynchus purusianus. Tambopata. Photo: Alex Durand

Purus Jacamar is an uncommon Jacamar of flooded forest, which is difficult to get in Manu but easier in near Puerto Maldonado.

Overall, we solve several issues with the community program this way. Let’s list the advantages.

  • less travelling and more birding efficient.
  • beds with good mosquito netting
  • working toilets
  • running water
  • a great trail system
  • Access to Harpy Eagle nest with NO surcharge.
  • return flight tickets Lima-Cusco allowing birdng at all different altitudes along the new Transoceanic highway between Cusco and Puerto Maldonado. It also gives almost a full day of birding in Lima.
  • Overall the number of species in 8 days will be much higher with this alternative program with more different types of habitat and more time in field and less time lost on transport.

Here is the new 9 day  program that we shall run in August replacing the community program while the condtions are not great. It has one extra day added to sample the cloud forest more amply. For other programs we shall run the same program over just 8 days. Young birders up to 25 years old have a special price of $699 for 8 days trip (airfare and Lima day not included) and $609 for 7 days (later programs) .

Links to previous posts with background about the Amarakaeri Manu community lodges:

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Antonio Coral and Puma

This is almost an urban legend in the rainforest. Almost every visitor to Tambopata, Peru will hear the story. The boatman spots something swimming in the river. He calls out: PUMA!!!! -and directs the canoe towards the wet cat. At a moment of intuition – What if I can get it into the boat? – and then steers up alongside. Incredibly, the Puma does not turn down a free ride, but climbs up and stand on the railing. The tourists are stunned, but one of them eventually gets the camera out.

Puma in the canoe in Tambopata river with Antonio Coral

Puma in the canoe in Tambopata river with Antonio Coral

Since this occassion a couple of years back, the boatman Antonio Coral, has become an expert bird guide, who guides exclusively for Kolibri Expeditions. Antonio is now living in Toronto and volunteers at the Royal Ontario Museum. From June 23 through November  2010 shall he be guiding many of our birding groups in Peru. Join him! And who knows maybe he spots a Puma for you?

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John E. Riutta. Natural Born Blogger

John Riutta - Born Again BirdwatcherThere is something about John Riutta’s blogging style that  makes his writing very pleasant. It is easy flowing and somewhat liquid. What is more, his topics are always well researched and interesting. It is an honor to have John as host for the July 9 departure of the Manu community lodges program this summer

As preperations for his Peru adventure he is sharing his reading and discoveries in a new weekly blogging series on his blog Born Again Birdwatcher.  Every Friday is Peruvian Friday. What a great idea! Two posts have been presented so far.

This shall be great to follow!

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It’s not a holiday, it’s birding

Young birders - Chris West.

Young birders - Photo: Chris West of http://swallowtailedkite.blogspot.com/.

Here is a  spinn-off from our recent Peru-trip give away, in which many young birders participated, although most did not make it all the way to win a free trip.  I did reserve several slots for young birders, but I had also to see what possibility the participants would have to be able to raise  interest among fully paying  participants. Although the social media skills were great, I felt many would  have difficulty in getting friends to pay full price. I felt very sorry, considering all the hard work they put in.

Since, then I have been balling a few ideas with  Young birders  Chris West and Kai Reed. Maybe it would be possible to cater a trip for young birders during our low season at a special discounted price, where some of the costly private transport or expensive hotels are scaled off.
From them I understood that during spring term there would be little chance of going away if the trips were not centered around some holiday. I also understood that price was more important than comfort.  This is what I have come up with. The first reactions are very positive among the young birders I have been in contact with, so it is likely that the trips will take off, in spite of the short notice.

We shall offer a birding Carpish/Satipo road program for Young birders SUB25 Feb 14-21 $699 (President’s birthday holiday) and birdwatching in Manu National Park and Amarakaeri communal reserve Feb 25-March 4 May 17-24 $699, with possibility to do Manu road or Abra Malaga/Machu Picchu self-guided prior to start of that section. The idea is to provide affordable trips for young birders – and also prepare the communities for when more comfort demanding clients will arrive.

UPDATE: We shall not fill either trip, why we offer both trips also for those birders young at heart, but older than 25 years old. Price is $120/day.  An 8 day trip would therefore be only $960. Unbeatable! Satipo road trip set off slightly modified with 3 people on Feb 15. The Manu trip is postponed to May 17. There are still a few vacancies.

Carpish/Satipo would be much less expensive in total than the Manu trip because no internal flight are involved.

What is the catch?

  • It is rainy season, which traditionally has kept birders away from Peru. However, that should not keep a birder away. The birding is still fantastic – and it beats shoveling snow any day, right!
  • Some of the Manu lodges are at  this point abandoned, but bringing in a large group will allow for the communities to send people there to clear the clearings, which will be a bit overgrown, and making maintenance. It is likely, that not all maintenance shall be ready, but we shall also bring camping equipment to be able to stay wherever we want en route.
  • No extras are included. That means the flight to Cuzco is not included (we can help with purchase for best price available). Alternatively, a bus can be take to Cuzco (21 hours) from Lima, with the possibility to stop and bird in Abancay. Bus cost is about 50$. The transport to Atalaya from where the Manu trip begins is also not included. This allows for participants to either go down the Manu road with the local bus (Mo, We, Fri) and make stops or travel straight there. The bus is around 20-30 dollars.
  • One may travel overland back to Cuzco from Maldonado (cost 20-30 dollars) or fly to Lima or Cuzco (we can help for best price). The overland option gives some opportunity to bird around Quincemil and Marcapata.
  • There are no extras on the Central Peru option.

And what do you get?

Apart from the limitations above, everything else is included. You get an expert English speaking bird guide that knows all calls of the birds to separate antbirds and flycatchers. You have a cook that makes sure you get great food and drinks through-out the trip. A private boat in Manu and private car in Carpish with professional boatmen and driver.

And you should get minimum 300 species of birds with up to over 400 possible.Carpish/Satipo road is potentially more species rich as you pass through many different habitats.

Here are the links again, if you want to read more about the trips.

There will be limited space on the tours. So don’t wait too long to book. Please spread the word through your network of young birders.

Great thanks to Chris West for getting me  the excellent picture for this blogpost. Check out Chris West’s blog here.

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Hummingbirds in Manu

Here is the second installment of Hummingbirds from South East Peru. This time the Manu lowlands. Hummingbirds below 700m altitude.
Many of the photos are from Amazonia Lodge. All of them digiscoped with Vortex Nomad telescope by Alex Durand. Enjoy!

Rufous-crested Coquette. Photo: Alex Durand

Rufous-crested Cocquette. Photo: Alex Duran

Sapphire-spangled EMerald

,Violet-headed Hummingbird. Photo: Alex Durand

Sapphire-spàngled Emerald

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Coppery-tailed Emerald. Photo: Alex Durand

Festive Cocquette. Photo: Alex Durand.

Rufous-crested Coquette. Photo: Alex Duran

Rufous-crested Cocquette. Photo: Alex Durand

Sapphire-spangled EMerald

Fork-tailed Woodnymph. Photo Alex Durand.

Rufous-crested Cocquette. Photo: Alex Durand

Fork-tailed Woodnymph. Photo: Alex Durand

Gould's Jewelfront. Photo: Alex Durand

Violet-headed Hummingbird. Photo: Alex Durand

White-necked Jacobin. Photo: Alex Durand

Sapphire-spangled Emerald. Photo: Alex Durand

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Hummers in Cuzco, Abra Malaga and Machu Picchu

Hummingbirds are such fantastic creatures. No closer presentation or introduction is needed. Let’s just look at a sample of all the hummingbirds that can be seen in SE Peru on a tour that includes Machu Picchu and Manu National Park.

In this first delivery I present the hummers in Cuzco with surroundings such as Huacarpay lake , Abra Malaga and Machu Picchu. The following deliveries will treat Manu Road and the Manu lowlands.
I shall do frequent updates to this post to include more photos as I get them. All pictures are clickable for larger images and contain the name of the species as you pass the cursor over it.

All pictures in this installment are made by Alex Durand with a Vortex Nomad telescope and a small Fuji pòint and shoot camera.

White-tufted Sunbeam. Photo: Alex Durand

Bearded Mountaineer. Photo: Alex Durand

Bearded Mountaineer. Photo: Alex Durand

Coppery-naped Puffleg. Photo. Alex Durand.

Chestnut-breasted Coronet. Photo: Alex Durand

White-bellied Hummingbird.  Photo: Alex Durand

Olivaceous Thornbill.  Photo: Alex Durand

Gould's Inca

Great Sapphirewing. Photo: Alex Durand

Giant Hummingbird

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