Soundtrack of Sunrise: Birding at Limoncocha

Reminder: you can browse all the photos in a high resolution slide-show by clicking on one.

Tuesday, February 25

This morning, Fausto woke me up an hour-and-a-half before breakfast for a special early-morning bird-watching boat ride. He said it was reward for all my help in the kitchen, and it probably had something to do with all the bird photos I took yesterday when I was supposed to be fishing.

A family of wattled jacanas - one adult and two juveniles.

At first I thought the juveniles were a different species -- they look so different!

The fleshy face mask and super-long toes give these birds a unique style.

I had no idea I'd photographed this bird until Fausto and I were going through my photos that night. We finally pinned it down as a juvenile purple gallinule -- one of those awesome, straight-from-the-book IDs.

The next day, our ID was validated when we spotted this glossy adult purple gallinule!

A patient striated heron.

Shaking off the morning dew!

The much larger cocoi heron.

A great egret poses next to a striated heron, as if to say, "Let's not forget about scale!"

An Amazon kingfisher, described as "oily green."

An everyday ringed kingfisher.

Cacique nests hanging over the lake.

A disheveled-looking smooth-billed ani, true to character.

A greater ani with her long, glamorous Lady Gaga tail.

A greater kiskadee, I think.

And two lesser kiskadees?

I think this is a rusty-margined flycatcher. My book shows Limoncocha within the range for this species, but notes that there are "no confirmed sightings" east of the Andes. I wonder if this photo counts?

A pair of black-capped donacobius, the melodic singers who provided a wonderful soundtrack for the sunrise.

A green ibis.

A female anhinga dries her wings.

An orange-backed troupial.

A tree of tanagers. I think there is a pair of masked crimson tanagers and a pair of silver-beaked tanagers, but that is very much an educated guess.

A tea-party of five (three shown) white-eared jacamers. I was so excited to recognize the profile of these strange, hummingbird-kingfisher-like birds.

Sorry for the terrible quality -- my camera lens always fogged up in the morning. I don't recall taking this picture, but it looks like it might be a limpkin?

A red-capped cardinal.

A snail kite, or caracolera meaning "snailer" in Spanish.

Hunting the snails which make up the majority of its diet.

My beloved, my favorite, my one and only hoatzin.

They look so at home among the enormous leaves of an alien landscape.

So conspiratorial, always whispering secrets...

... and looking so guilty when they're caught!

Watching the sun rise over the flat Amazonian canopy made the morning one of the best of my life.

While we were out, Fausto had me pull up one of the multitudinous nylon fishing nets secured at either end by a stick. We captured three fish.

Bocachico, raspabalsa, and white piranha.

In the afternoon, we embarked on a four-hour trek to the giant ceibo tree. My camera was running low on battery (since the electricity only comes on in for an hour in the evenings) so I took only the most important photos. Mostly, I photographed this vine, Monstera deliciosa.

It begins as a flat, understory vine plastered to a tree trunk.

When it reaches the canopy, it spreads out big leaves, like these.

I got an up-close look at this canopy epiphyte when we found a fallen branch.

I <3 Monstera!

My camera finally died, so our evening caiman hunting trip is remembered only in my mind. The aquatic reptiles were larger than the one’s I remember from my last caiman expedition at Tiputini [link], and far more numerous. Our weak flashlight revealed hordes of glowing eyes with one quick swipe of the lake shore. Between the ravenous piranhas and giant black caimans, I’m glad there’s no swimming beach in this lake!

Our boat’s propeller snared a couple times on hidden fishing nets beneath the surface. The nearby village of Limoncocha supplies many Kichwa fishermen who set up their nets around the lake. The process is completely legal or strictly illegal, depending on who you ask, but one thing is clear: if the procedure is illegal, there is zero enforcement. It’s always a conundrum when indigenous traditions contradict conservation – who really has more of a right to survive, the native people or the native flora and fauna?

I asked Fausto what the Kichwa people used to make fishing lines and nets before nylon existed. “We didn’t fish with lines or nets back then,” he explained. “Only spear fishing.”

I guess having a lake filled with fishing nets isn’t so natural after all. I wonder what the wildlife around here would be like if the bottom of the food chain wasn’t so heavily harvested.

When we got back to our dock, Nadine, Sascha and I were breathless at the dancing lights we saw. Time stopped for me as I watched white sparkles dance across the lilypads, or slowly flicker on-and-off in the trees. Lightning danced at the corner of the sky, always visible but never audible. The noise was a cacophony of insects and frogs, and occasionally the croak of a hoatzin or the squeak of a bat. At times I blurred my eyes and let the scene mesmerize me. Other times I tried to pick out individual noises or follow specific lightning bugs through the night sky. It might have been an hour before we realized we were alone on the dock. Reluctantly, we left the light show. We walked down the narrow boardwalk and up the muddy wooden steps to another delicious dinner in the rainforest.