From the Delfin II in the Amazon

Feb 23, 2012 - Delfin II

Caiman lizard
Slate-colored hawk
Yellow-crowned brush-tailed tree rat

Rio Ucayali: Yanallpa & Rio Dorado

It was raining a bit this morning, but we didn’t let dark skies deter us. We set out. And why not? Experiencing rain in the rainforest can’t be escaped, nor should one travel here without experiencing it firsthand. Kayakers and skiffers explored the various creeks in the Yanallpa area, making their own discoveries.

Pink dolphins broke the surface unexpectedly around us, large troupes of squirrel monkeys chattered overhead as they traveled through the canopy, iguanas impersonated tree branches as best they were able. Is it to sneak up on their prey, the elusive leaf? We did not know. One treat this morning was a group of pygmy marmosets that skiffers discovered. These small creatures are the hummingbirds of the primate world, living primarily off of the sap that wells from the holes they’ve chewed in their trees.

After breakfast, we returned to further explore Yanallpa by skiff. We first dashed down the river to look for macaws in a stand of palms that the Ucayali had brought out from the forest by cutting more and more deeply in toward their swampy habitat. A few red-bellied macaws perched and chatted in the palm-tops. Our river explorations were a delight. The forest here “feels jungly,” if that makes any sense. The waters are a green tunnel, and the trees overhang the banks. We had a chance to see one of the creatures of the rain forest’s night shift: owl monkeys resting in their hollow tree roost. We nudged in beneath them, and they peered down at us with their large, toffee-colored eyes.

One big thrill of the morning was seeing a bird species that our guide had never seen before: a hummingbird perched on the top of a bare branch had us all stumped. But we pulled out the guidebook, compared markings and bill length above us with that on the page, and decided that it was a long-billed starthroat. A first for all of us visiting, but also for the skiff driver and guide—and it’s moments like these that reaffirm our growing sense that one can never stop looking closely, even at familiar places.

Rio Dorado was our afternoon site of exploration. What a place. This black-water river coming out of the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve always holds a surprise or two. Today, a yellow-crowned brush-tailed tree rat scampered overhead on a branch. “Squirrel!” we yelled, because that was the sense of the creature as it moved. It’s likely that none of us expected to stop for a few minutes and gaze at a rat before this trip began, but gaze we did, and it was worthwhile.

Amongst the huge span of Victoria lilies (or “alligator skin” as they are also called) we were treated to a view of an adult wattled jacana, most likely a male as this is a polyandrous bird, protecting his downy chicks. At first, we just saw the male drawing our attention away from the lily from which he’d flown. Then, as we sat quietly, out from the water popped three fluffy heads. The chicks strutted on the vegetation with their parent, and at times nestled under his wings, which is the brooding site for these birds rather than the underbelly.

Darkness fell around us on the Rio Dorado, and we listened to the sounds of the night rise. Frogs, macaws moving from daytime foraging to nighttime rest, bats, and more. We spotted the red eyeshine of spectacled caimans, and were able to get several glimpses of them resting at the surface. Nightjars whizzed overhead. Dolphins chuffed. We eventually made our way back to the Delfin II, but our ears and minds were full of the Amazon’s nocturnal world.

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About the Author

Liz Bradfield


A self-proclaimed “aspiring generalist,” Elizabeth, who goes by Liz, finds that the continued study of any place, animal, or ecology leads only to more interesting questions and interconnections and more fields to explore. She grew up on the waters of the Pacific Northwest, roaming the Salish Sea, and her interests have led her to work as a deckhand, kayak guide, marine mammal stranding responder, and field assistant for projects on kelp, humpback whales, and gray seals. Since 1999, Liz has worked as a marine educator and naturalist.

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