Friday, July 4, 2014

Seeing the Amazon Jungle from a motorized canoe

On our first afternoon at the Turtle Lodge, we were taken on a boat ride upstream, where we saw many familiar birds roosting on the banks and swooping for fish, but also a few new ones:

The jackana or river chicken was easiest to locate because of its loud call; it could usually be found flitting around in the tall grasses along the river banks.

The white-headed hawk was to be found on bare tree limbs high above the river.

My favorite, though, because it was so strikingly colored, was the king heron: its body and wing a pale yellow, but its face and beak a bright blue.

We saw king herons almost every time we were out on the river.

We came across the hoysen, or paradise bird, only once, on the introductory afternoon cruise

 We saw the yellow and brown rinkasee  a couple of times, but the only time I was able to get a half-decent show, or the bird in its nest, on the first afternoon

We never found out the identity of this small bird

Or of this two-toned blue heron.

We also saw several black heron, but I never got a chance to photograph it

After the precision and depth of the knowledge of birds of our Pantanal guide, Djalmas Santos, Cristovão’s more general knowledge on that subject was a let-down at first.  But as we learned on the later days of our time in the Amazon, his sophistication about social and political issues in Brazil made up for that.  In the end, our Amazon trip had a broader focus than the tour of the Pantanal, which was singularly focused on wildlife which, indeed, was more visible because the landscape was more open.

We often saw ducks in flight

We got used to identifying toucans and parrots flying far overhead (too distant to photograph); every time we were on the water, we saw grey river dolphins, and once there was a pink dolphin.  The touring plan called for guests to be taken on a special boat ride to find river dolphins on their last afternoon at the lodge; but we had seen so many dolphins on the way to doing other things that there was no point to such a trip for us; instead, we were treated to a special day visiting a local family which, so far as I could tell, none of the other guest got to do.

The best time for spotting wildlife can be in the dawn and sunset hours, as well as after dark.  So it was a bit disappointing that there was only one tour before breakfast, unlike the Pantanal where we were out before breakfast on three of our four days down there.  And the focus of the pre-breakfast boat tour was getting to a place where we could watch the sunrise – a very nice view, to be sure. 

We saw a couple of nice sunsets, on the way back from boat trips taken for other reasons

Because we were traveling on the cusp between the wet and dry seasons, we had more than our share of rain; it was often raining while we were out on the boat, and the rain was sometimes followed by some very fine rainbows, including double rainbows that spanned the sky from one side to the other

including this striking triple rainbow

The most common tall tree along the rivers was the parana tree

but there were occasional araratucupi trees, with their distinctive flat tops

When walking in the jungle, we knew the kapok tree largely by its huge walking folds of trunk (in the next post, the tiny frogs shown in photos were noticed enveloped in those folds near the ground), but from the river we could see a younger tree with its hanging fruit

Our one nighttime tour took us out on the river again.  This was a clear night, although we could see lightning in the distance, and clouds beginning to move in (it was pouring rain later that night).  Because there were so few lights within scores of miles, the sky was amazing sky.  The Milky Way was bright, we could see constellations as the Southern Cross, a backwards big dipper, Cassiope, Orion’s belt.   We were loooking for caiman eyes along the banks, but did not see many of them.  We rode up to a set of grasses and Helder, our motor boat operator, moved to the front of the boat, shone a large torch into the grasses, and quicky pulled a small caiman into the boat, which he handed to Cristovão, who proceeded to discuss its anatomy.  He pointed to the horizontal and vertical eyelids; the eyes are like mirrors, and the animal is frozen when light is shined into its eyes, and so can readily be grabbed. It was waving its legs as Cristovão grasped it; he pointed to the  five toes on forepaws and the four on the hind legs.   The caiman strikes its prey (such as piranha) with tail to stun it, then grab with mouth; 5 muscles to open and 15 to close.  The best meat is in the tail, which the locals eat grilled or fried.

Late one afternoon, we tried our hand at piranha fishing (all the Amazon tour web sites feature this fishing).  I am a minority in our family in that I don’t enjoy fishing, but it was our activity, so there I was.  Instead of fishing rods, were were handed small spools with fishing line and a baited hook, told to unwind about 2-3 meters, and cast.  Although we tried several fishing spots. mostly, we caught branches, or had our bait carefully nibbled off.  Helder caught one small piranha, and Joe caught a mid-sized one; Cristovão pulled the hook out of its mouth and showed us the teeth.

But even this was too small to eat, so we threw it back into the river cove.

Another family that left for fishing about an hour before we did had much better success, catching a dozen.  Their catch was fried and they had it for dinner; and they had so much that there were two to share with us.  Not much meat on them piranha, and many bones; but the fresh fish meat was delicious

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