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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Tambopata; essence of Amazonia #2

This post concludes my introduction to Tambopata National Reserve and Research Centre (which includes an excellent lodge), in the southern Peruvian Amazon Basin, which began here. If you missed it, you might like to go back and read the background to the reserve - I won't bore those who did read it by repeating it here. As I promised last time, today I'm going to introduce some of the mammals and birds that we encountered on our visit there.

As a 'teaser' last time I did include a photo of part of a big herd of White-lipped Peccaries Tayassu pecari which spent some time ploughing up the ground in front of the lodge while we watched from the balcony; peccaries are notoriously stroppy animals, quite capable of seeing off a Jaguar, so that was as close as we deemed it prudent to be. Here are some more images of that memorable encounter.
The white lips are actually more visible than appears here, and help to distinguish them from the
Collared Peccary Pecari tajacu, with which it coexists. Collared Peccaries live in much smaller groups.

White-lipped Peccaries are known as primarily fruit eaters, but this lot were definitely turning the ground
over, presumably in search of tubers.

This was a grassy 'lawn' before they worked on it!
Monkeys formed the most diverse mammal group that we saw, with five species encountered during our stay; here are some of them.
Brown Titi Monkey Callicebus (or Plecturocebus) brunneus, seen from our bedroom window
(the rooms were open to the forest).
The titis form a large group of medium-sized rainforest monkeys, with some 33 species recognised - the
number continues to grow - in three genera.

It took us a while to realise that she had a small baby with her.
Venezuelan Red Howler Alouatta seniculus. To me the rushing territorial roar of the howlers is key to the soundtrack of the Amazon, by day and night.
These are big monkeys, weighing up to nine kilos, living primarily on leaves.
Brown (or Tufted) Capuchin Cebus apella. (This is the traditional name for the widespread species,
but it seems highly likely that several species are involved.) They have a very broad dietary range.
Peruvian Spider Monkey Ateles chamek. Dreadful picture I know, but too wonderful an animal to omit if at all possible. Spider monkeys have
effectively five limbs, with the tail and four long dexterous limbs acting in concert.
They have four long fingers, but the thumb is almost absent.
Probably our most surprising mammal encounter however was with a Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth Choloepus hoffmanni on the ground, while walking at night from the canoes to our first night accommodation at Refugio Amazonas (see last posting for an explanation). They are known to come down every few days, to defecate (though no-one can explain why) or to change trees, though it should be easy enough to move from one canopy to another in many cases. Certainly they are helpless and highly vulnerable on the ground.
Hoffman's Two-toed Sloth, pulling itself along the forest floor with its powerful forefeet.

When it felt threatened, it was prepared to defend itself with its powerful claws;
not necessary on this occasion however!
Which brings us to birds, of which there were of course very many, beginning with some very impressive vultures along the river on the trip in. After that they are pretty much randomly presented.
Greater Yellow-headed Vulture Cathartes melambrotus, a big Amazon basin vulture.
(The late afternoon light is making its head look redder than it really is.)
The two yellow-headed vultures, along with the Turkey Vulture, are the only New World vultures
with a sense of smell.

Both the Black Vultures Coragyps atratus and the big King Vulture Sarcoramphus papa, follow the species which can smell the carcases, which the powerful King Vulture opens, allowing access to the others - but only when the King has finished!
Large-billed Tern Phaetusa simplex, also along the river; this one is found throughout inland South America.
The Hoatzin Opisthocomus hoazin, one of the most amazing birds in the world and one that I most look forward
to reacquainting myself with when I go back to the Amazon. The only member of its entire Order, which separated off from other birds around 65 million years ago - around the time that the other dinosaurs were wiped out by the meteorite.
It is the only bird to use a bacterial factory to digest leaves (like a sheep) and its enormous gut means that
there is scarcely any room for the great flight muscles, so it can only weakly flutter.
Bluish-fronted Jacamar Galbula cyanescens. The jacamars comprise a family of 18 species (all in the same genus)
from South and Central America, all hunters of flying insects.
Grey-capped Flycatcher Myiozetetes granadensis, one of the vast assemblage of South American
tyrant flycatchers; this one is fairly common.
Blue-throated Piping Guan Pipile cumanensis, wandering through the lodge grounds.
This is not the normal way of seeing this magnificent bird, as it is usually up in the canopy.
The guans are part of the Central and South American cracid family of nearly 60 species,
regarded as a very old one with connections to the mound-builders.
Red-necked Woodpecker Campephilus rubricollis. An impressive big woodpecker more than 30cm long,
found across the rainforests and cloud forests of northern South America.
Long-tailed Potoo Nyctibius aethereus. The potoos form a family of seven nocturnal species,
masters of camouflage.
Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin  Tyranneutes stolzmanni. Most of the manakins are brilliantly coloured, but this
species is more modestly attired, though small like the others. Like them too, the males form leks where
they display in competition with each other to attract females. They fly rapidly from a perch at the top
of a tree some 30 metres vertically upward, then hurtle down again.
Such a display can of course can only be viewed from the top of the canopy,
which means that not many people have done so! Although this little species occurs across northern South America,
only one nest has ever been found.
And that brings this brief introduction to Tambopata to a close. I do hope you can get there one day!


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