Pacaya River

Jan 08, 2020 - Delfin II


Up at 5 o’clock! This was our earliest morning yet, but it was for good reason. First we ventured out in search of monkeys and macaws, and once again, we weren’t disappointed. A troop of red howler monkeys navigated the treetops and a pair of juvenile scarlet macaws gave us a rare treat. Screaming to the high heavens, the siblings swooped in and landed in a tree right out in the open in glorious morning light and blue skies. They proceeded to hang out as we all floated on the water watching them.

Another part of our early rise had to do with a very special meal, breakfast in the middle of the Amazon at a nearby ranger station. While we were enjoying the sights and sounds of nature, the crew of Delfin II was hard at work setting up a feast for us at the station. Inside the main room, we were surrounded by forest as well as plates of sandwiches, eggs, and fresh fruit.

The station does a lot of work to conserve taricaya, an aquatic turtle of the Amazon that has been under threat from over-harvesting, as they are seen as a delicacy. The reserve works to protect these turtles by collecting and hatching many of the eggs. They protect nesting beaches for the turtles, and each year a certain amount of eggs are allowed to be taken for food, while the rest are hatched and released back into the wild. This has helped taricaya turtle populations make great strides towards recovery while sustaining the food sources and income for many local people.

After breakfast most of us changed into swimsuits. It was time to head out for the Amazon plunge. We ventured out to the black waters of the Yanayaco Lagoon. Here the murky, sedimented waters of the main river give way to tannin rich, almost tea-like waters. Complete with brightly colored pool noodles, one after the other we all started jumping from the skiffs to float in the lagoon. Pink dolphins even surfaced nearby! Several minutes and a cold beer later, we were all headed back to Delfin II to rest up and prepare for the evening’s outing.

Did you know that Victoria Amazon giant lily pads are hermaphrodites? These lily pads which can grow up to several feet in diameter have both male and female reproductive structures. During the rainy season, they produce the lily flower, which starts off as white and becomes pink. This flower is part of a very special adaptation to handle the highly fluctuating river levels. On the first day when the flower is white, it emits an aroma that attracts a scarab beetle at night. The flower is much warmer and the scent stronger at night, which summons the beetle to seek it out. When the beetle enters to feed, the flower closes, trapping the beetle inside, where it feeds and is protected. The next day leaves the flower opens once again and the beetle leaves and pollinates other flowers. Pollinated flowers then close up and retreat beneath the water, where at a future time they will disintegrate and release the fertilized seeds of new water lilies.

As the sun began to sink below the horizon, we were treated to the smiling face of a sleepy sloth. The night’s big event was about to begin…searching for caimans! What a night to look for them. The weather was beautiful, with a full moon rising. We slowly drove through the black water, as our guides Denis, Ricardo, and Erik swept the vegetation with their flashlights looking for shining eyes. One boat found a single juvenile caiman floating amongst the vegetation. Just as we got close, it plopped beneath the surface with a jolt that made us all jump even though it was only about a foot long. Another boat found several baby caimans, and then the baby caiman’s mom. These large reptiles are surprisingly doting caretakers and will watch and protect their hatchlings. She suddenly appeared and began to approach, which of course was our cue to head home. With our hearts beating a little faster, but no worse for wear, we made our way back for a much-deserved dinner and to get a good night’s sleep.

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About the Author

Morgan Heim

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Wildlife photojournalist and filmmaker Morgan (Mo) Heim raises a camera for one purpose – to capture moments in an animal’s life that will make us consider what that life means. Inevitably, those stories involve people as much as wildlife.

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