The Advantages of Bird Watching from Iquitos Peru, with Dawn on the Amazon

by Captain Bill

The Advantages of Bird Watching from Iquitos Peru, with Dawn on the Amazon

A few days ago I received an email from a nice woman complimenting my work on the Captains blog, and asking for more details about the Dawn on the Amazon bird watching expeditions. I want to take this opportunity to explain to you the advantages of bird watching the upper Amazon from Iquitos Peru with Dawn on the Amazon.

Bird watching from the observation deck of Dawn on the Amazon 3

The more I observe about the rainforest the more I realize how many different major ecosystems there are, and how many micro-environments within each ecosystem. When I first explored the upper Amazon a decade ago, the rainforest appeared monotonous to my untrained eye. I thought it was beautiful, with a thousand shades of green, but it was like a green shimmering curtain. Like most new visitors, I saw the forest but not the individual trees. I would like to share a little of what I see with you now that the curtain has been opened for me.

The first year I explored for five weeks and never saw an orchid. Now I wonder how that could be possible. Obviously the curtain was closed because, believe me, the rainforest is full of orchids, with different species proliferating in each ecosystem and micro-environment.

On the Pacaya River there is a small, stunning, orange orchid that we see for a couple of hundred meters, and then do not see again even though I always look for it for the next hundred kilometers.

Now I know a species of bromeliad that is prolific one hundred kilometers up the Nanay River, but does not grow along the first 60 kilometers at all and is rare in the next 20 kilometers. Black piranhas become larger and more numerous in that same stretch of the Nanay River.

I know a short stretch of a few bends on the Tahuayo River where a beautiful variegated bromeliad grows. The variegation is so attractive that it would make make a perfect house plant whether it blooms or not. Those same few bends in the river are also the most likely place to observe the blue faced Capped Heron.

Those three examples are from the best bird watching areas in the upper Amazon. I might as well say the best bird watching areas in the world. Each example is from a different large ecosystem with unique micro-environments, habitats, food chains, shelter, and bird populations. When you learn more about these crown jewels of natural history, you will want Dawn on the Amazon to take you there.

The beautiful, black water, Nanay River is how we access Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve, which was established to protect a rare white sand forest. Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve is home to 475 species of birds, 21 of which are associated with only the white sand forest, and 5 species recently identified, named, and registered by science. Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve has set many records for bio-diversity including the most butterfly species of any site in the world.

Bird watching in Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve, from the observation deck of Dawn on the Amazon 3

Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve is a mega-diversity hot spot, protecting more species of primates than any other reserve in Peru, and the 500 species of birds are an impressive number. One attempt to try to explain the mega-diversity of Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve, the Pleistocene refugia theory, speculates that millions of years ago a climate change turned most of the Amazon Basin into savanna with only a few pockets of remaining rainforest. Those pockets evolved for a few million years in a much different way than the part that became savanna. Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve is believed by some scientists to be one of those pockets of permanent rainforest. When you combine that theory with the fact that Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve has more high ground than any other place I know in the upper Amazon Basin and is the watershed divide between the Amazon and Yavari Rivers, you can better understand this unique ecosystem and how it is so different from Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve.

Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is a huge flooded forest the size of the state of New Jersey. Among the 450 bird species protected in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve are the highest numbers of birds requiring wetland habitat. The Pacaya Samiria National Reserve is home to, and protects, nearly all the species native to low lying jungle that are threatened with extinction, including the spider monkey, giant otter, manatee, and harpy eagle.

Each of the three reserves is home to more or less 500 species of birds. Even more amazing is that in each of the reserves approximately 50 to 100 species of the 500 are different than the other two reserves. Don’t hold me to these numbers as some exact science but I hope you understand what I mean. A bird watcher cannot come to Peru, go bird watching at a lodge, and think they have seen it all.

The big advantage of bird watching with Dawn on the Amazon is our mobility. We move our boats, from eco-system to eco-system. For instance, we can spend three days studying Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve, two days studying Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Reserve, and five or six days studying Pacaya Samiria National Reserve. On the way we can spend a couple of hours bird watching permanent Amazon islands, partially flooded Amazon islands, black water oxbow lakes, smaller streams, and pastures. I believe we have the ultimate bird watching program.

Besides the advantage of mobility, one of my crew, Alberto, is the best bird and wildlife spotter in the upper Amazon, and my entire crew are extremely enthusiastic about bird watching and making sure our guests are happy. It is not unusual to see members of the crew with binoculars around their neck, mopping the floor, stopping every few minutes to glass the shore. We have binoculars for our crew and our guests.

I believe Dawn on the Amazon has the most extensive library about the natural history of the Amazon of any cruise boat or lodge. Seven of those books are specifically about bird watching in the Amazon. Our two newest editions are excellent, Birds of Peru by John O’Neill and Birds of Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve by Pepe Alvarez. Birds of Peru got bad reviews because it was too large to use as a field guide and because it was too expensive. In my opinion it is just the right size to lay on the table of our observation area and easily make a positive identification.

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Depending on how many hours of the day a birdwatcher watches, a birdwatcher could watch as many birds as a birdwatcher could. Seriously, I get asked all the time, “How many species will we see?” The answer depends a lot on our guest, but in one week of bird watching it is reasonable to spot, hear, and identify 200 species. There are diminishing returns on the second week, another 100 species would be a good goal, but it is not as easy as it reads.

I want to tell you more about the Dawn on the Amazon style of bird watching. We travel between 11 and 21 kilometers per hour (depending on the current and points of interest) to the reserves, all of which we have permission to take our boats into. The reserves are the ultimate nature observation destinations. Do not imagine they are like the State or National Parks in the United States or Europe. They are difficult to access, distance is great, supplies are scarce, they have no infrastructure, and only Pacaya Samiria National Reserve even has park rangers. Frequently we go for days and never see another tourist.

As soon as we arrive in the reserve, or if we see something interesting before then, we slow down to 6 or 7 kilometers per hour. That is the best speed for bird watching, and we cruise slowly along as close to shore as is safe.

When we see anything of particular interest we stop, back up if necessary, maneuver the boat as close as practical, and take in the scene with binoculars and cameras. When we find a ripe fruit tree, a marching troop of army ants, or a swarm of insects that have attracted multiple interesting species, we sometimes tie up and hang out watching the show. We always try to find a place like the ones just mentioned to tie up late in the afternoon well before dark. That usually results in a great nature show in the evening and frequently early the next morning. In fact, you will see more wildlife just hanging out quietly in an appropriate place than you will tromping around in the rainforest on a jungle hike. It is best to lure them to you. Location is crucial however, like always.Three or four days in a reserve moving 6 kilometers per hour is the best way to access the most micro-environments and to see the most species.

Bird watching with Dawn on the Amazon

I am living in Iquitos Peru, pursuing my favorite hobbies with a vigor. If I can lure a monkey or tropical bird up close enough to get a good photo of it, and a bromeliad blooming in a tree, and then write a little story about the experience, I usually stay pretty happy. My occupation is my hobby, and I am passionate about it. That may be your biggest advantage bird watching with Dawn on the Amazon.

Follow these links to another post about bird watching, Bird Watching Iquitos Peru , and my online bird watching photo album, Birds and Bees of the Amazon Rainforest

The Advantages of Bird Watching from Iquitos Peru, with Dawn on the Amazon

Bill Grimes, Welcome to Peru, Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Debbie Blair January 16, 2008 at 6:32 am

I’ve really enjoyed reading Bill’s birdwatching blog (his other blogs make great reading also, take the time to read through them). Not only is it colorful and informational, I feel like I can close my eyes and see everything that Bill describes and it makes me want to be right on the deck of The Dawn On The Amazon seeing everything through his eyes. You can tell from Bill’s writing that he loves the area that he describes and is pationate about it. This is a trip that I will put in on my list of things I must do. I’ve traveled to South America for the past two years and my first year was in Argentina and among other things I spent time in Iguazu. The second year Peru became my focus and of course I visited Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley and spent 5 days in the Tambopata Reserve (which is not nearly enough time). I fell head over heels in love with Peru and will be coming back again to see more of the area this year and Iquitos will be a part of that trip and I cannot wait. I may never leave!!

2 Dave Bonnett January 16, 2008 at 11:16 pm

Bill is spot on about the amazing bird life we see every time we visit. Bill has designed Dawn III to be the ideal bird watching platform. The expansive top deck give 360 degrees of unobstructed view and the fact that all machinery noise can be eliminated brings species close in that otherwise would stay away. We are headed back to Dawn III soon and know we will come away with another long list of bird sightings along with photographs and audio recordings. There is no better venue on the river.
Dave B

3 DonnaB October 20, 2008 at 10:12 pm

Great photos and a cheery narrative make me feel like I am right there with you folks. Someday a tour on the DAWN may be a reality.

Right now, I shall simply take delight in the flight and fight I saw yesterday… a redtail hawk harrassing and chasing a juvenile bald eagle. Impressive and bold. The eagle looked unconcerned and kept circling, as if pretending to be a vulture. But neither hawk nor I were fooled.
The with a flick of a primary feather or two the eagle took flight to another less populated field.
SO COOL.

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