AMAZONIAN PERU: IQUITOS TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Amazonia Peru: Iquitos: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Iquitos in northeastern Peru. (There is a good quality hotel in the terminal complex at Lima airport, so there is no need to leave the airport should you need an overnight stop en route to Iquitos.)
From the Iquitos waterfront, fast, covered boats will take us down the Amazon river to Yanamono creek and Explorama Lodge for an overnight stay. Travelling down the immense Amazon river as it flows through northern Peru on its way to Brazil, we shall look for Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, White-winged, White-banded and Southern Rough-wing Swallows, and either of the two species of rarely seen river dolphins.
After our first sampling of the Explorama lodges’ tasty meals, our introduction to Amazonian birds will begin around the lodge clearing where we will likely see White-eyed, Dusky-headed and Cobalt-winged Parakeets, Blue-headed and Short-tailed Parrots, Squirrel Cuckoo, White-necked Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Blue-crowned Trogon, the splendid White-eared Jacamar, Black-fronted Nunbird, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Short-crested, Boat-billed, Social and Grey-capped Flycatchers, Thrush-like and Buff-breasted Wrens, Masked Tityra, Magpie, Silver-beaked, Blue-grey and Palm Tanagers, Yellow-rumped Cacique and Russet-backed and Crested Oropendolas.
Some late afternoon birding nearby should also yield Greater Ani, Tui Parakeet, Glittering-throated Emerald, Scarlet-crowned Barbet, Orange-fronted Plushcrown, Straight-billed and Long-billed Woodcreepers, Pygmy Antwren, Great Kiskadee, White-winged Becard, Red-capped Cardinal, Hooded and Masked Crimson Tanagers, Thick-billed and Purple-throated Euphonias, Greyish Saltator and Orange-backed Troupial. We will also have our first attempt at such specialities as Orange-eyed Flycatcher as well as the more secretive Black-banded Crake or Pale-billed (Bay) Hornero. In the evening we may well see a Tropical Screech-Owl or a Common Potoo just outside our rooms.
Amazonia Peru: Iquitos: Day 2 This morning we shall visit one of the nearby river islands with differing aged stands of both young and mature woodlands. Edge growth is inhabited by the lovely Red-and-white Spinetail whilst in taller Cecropia trees we will look for Blue-winged Parrotlets, Brownish Elaenia, Streaked Flycatcher and Bicoloured and Pearly-breasted Conebills. Nearby, mature woodland is inhabited by Lettered Aracari, Plain-breasted Piculet, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Leaden Antwren, Ash-breasted Antbird and Zimmer’s Woodcreeper (a cryptic species whose identification remained unsolved until recent times). Our best chance for seeing the colourful Festive Parrot and the incredible Amazonian Umbrellabird will be from these islands.
Our boat journey will then continue down the Amazon, and after passing the dramatic confluence with the Napo River, our boat will take us to the 100,000-hectare forest reserve of Explornapo Lodge, located on the Sucusari river, and the Amazon Conservatory for Tropical Studies (ACTS) near the famous canopy walkway. From here we will bird the forest trails as we walk to ACTS for our three nights there. (The walk would take about 45 minutes if we kept going, but of course there will be plenty to distract us along the way!)
Amazonia Peru: Iquitos: Days 3-4 With the sun still a distant orange glow on the horizon, early dawn will find us on the canopy walkway platforms admiring huge emergent trees taking form amidst the backdrop of undisturbed rainforest. During this magical hour, the rainforest birdlife erupts in song. The clear whistles of Bartlett’s Tinamou, the rhythmic hoots of Rufous Motmots and the strident calls of Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper are soon followed by the yelps and croaks of White-throated and Channel-billed Toucans.
Small mixed flocks of tanagers and honeycreepers form as the sun’s first rays strike the canopy and the low hanging vapour clouds evaporate. It is much more enjoyable to watch colourful canopy gems such as Purple-throated and White-lored Euphonias, Paradise, Green-and-gold, Turquoise, Bay-headed, Opal-rumped and Opal-crowned Tanagers, Black-faced, Yellow-bellied and Blue Dacnises and Green, Short-billed and Purple Honeycreepers foraging in the same tree crown in which you are standing! These early hours are also the best time to find parrots and we will watch for pairs of Red-and-green Macaws, Maroon-tailed Parakeets, Sapphire-rumped Parrotlets, Orange-cheeked and Black-headed Parrots, and Orange-winged and Mealy Amazons chattering contact calls as they commute from roost sites to feeding trees. Golden-tailed Sapphires and Black-bellied Thorntails visit nectar-rich flowering trees whilst ripe canopy fruits attract marauding Ivory-billed and Many-banded Aracaris and Purple-throated and Bare-necked Fruitcrows. Piratic Flycatchers and even Swallow-Tanagers can be seen adeptly capturing invertebrate prey and with the increase in insect activity we will hope for a canopy flock comprised of such nuclear attendants as White-fronted Nunbird, Lineated Woodcreeper, Moustached and Dugand’s Antwrens, White-lored, Slender-footed and Yellow-crowned Tyrannulets, Grey and Forest Elaenias, and Pink-throated Becard to pass near us.
We also have a good chance of finding one or two of the more inconspicuous, solitary denizens of the canopy such as Black-bellied Cuckoo, Paradise Jacamar, Golden-collared Toucanet, Lawrence’s Thrush (that remarkable mimic), and the diminutive Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher. Our scanning of the surrounding treetops should reward us with Double-toothed Kite, vociferous Red-throated Caracaras, Grey-rumped, Pale-rumped and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swifts, White-necked Puffbird, the gleaming Spangled Cotinga and, with luck, less frequently observed species such as Black-faced Hawk, White-browed Purpletuft or Band-tailed and Casqued Oropendolas.
After just a few hours the canopy avifauna goes quiet as the hot tropical sun forces the birds slightly lower, beneath leafy cover. We shall consequently descend to bird along an excellent trail system threading through the surrounding terra firme forests. The complexity of the rainforest will be immediately evident. Thick woody lianas looping through strata of various heights, flange-like tree buttresses and palms with odd-looking stilt roots are all part of the enchantment of the rainforest. While we walk patiently and quietly along the trails, our primary cues for finding birds will be sound and movement as we pursue both shy and retiring insectivorous birds and the more colourful frugivores.
We will be attentive for the flash of movement caused by a Purplish or Yellow-billed Jacamar spearing an unlucky katydid in flight, or a colourful Black-tailed Trogon sallying out for subcanopy fruits. The rhythmic song of a Pavonine Quetzal will alert us to its presence, although we will be fortunate to find it hidden in the immense greenery. The list of puffbirds is impressive and here in the terra firme we shall seek such inconspicuous species as Collared Puffbird, Lanceolated Monklet and Rusty-breasted Nunlet. A diverse assemblage of ovenbirds and woodcreepers inhabit the terra firme and with the careful use of playback we may find Striped Woodhaunter, Olive-backed Foliage-gleaner, Short-tailed and Black-tailed Leaftossers, and Spot-throated and Ocellated Woodcreepers. A sudden harsh scolding note may be the first sign of a thrilling army-ant swarm attended by Plain-brown and White-chinned Woodcreepers, Sooty, Scale-backed, White-plumed, Bicoloured and Hairy-crested Antbirds, and Reddish-winged Bare-eye. The very rarely observed king of the aforementioned spectacle is, of course, the Red-billed Ground-Cuckoo, who, just as the antbirds, voraciously captures plump insects fleeing the raiding ants.
Not all antbirds are obligate ant-swarm followers, and here we shall also seek a large list of antbirds found away from swarms including Fasciated, Undulated, Plain-winged, and Mouse-coloured Antshrikes, Black-faced, Warbling, Yellow-browed and Spot-winged Antbirds and Rufous-capped and Black-faced Antthrushes. To accomplish seeing either the shy and reclusive Striated Antthrush or the magnificent Ochre-striped Antpitta walking quietly over the forest floor will, however, require every bit of our recently-honed forest skills. Although somewhat inconspicuous when quietly foraging, manakins are usually more easily found when displaying and we may witness some of their peculiar antics. The nervous Golden-headed Manakin often displays in subcanopy trees and likewise we shall search for the hidden perches of chirruping Blue-backed Manakins.
Additional species we will look for from the canopy walkway and along the terra firme trails are White-throated Tinamou, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Marbled Wood-Quail, Grey-fronted Dove, Great-billed, Straight-billed and Reddish Hermits, Amazonian White-tailed and Black-throated Trogons, Great Jacamar, Chestnut-capped Puffbird, the roaming Rusty-belted Tapaculo, Black-and-white Tody-Tyrant, Amazonian Scrub-Flycatcher, Brownish Twistwing, Bright-rumped Attila, Ruddy-tailed, Whiskered, Variegated and Dusky-chested Flycatchers, Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin, Musician Wren, Buff-rumped Warbler, Yellow-bellied Tanager, Slate-coloured Grosbeak and Red-rumped Cacique. The primary target of our night birding near our well-placed lodge will be the Nocturnal Curassow, this being one of the few places on the continent where seeing this species is a real possibility. We will be alert for a male in song and with a modicum of luck we will spotlight this coveted species high in a tree on one of our nocturnal excursions. We may also encounter Short-tailed Nighthawk, Northern Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl, Long-tailed Potoo, Crested Owl or even Night Monkeys during our night birding here.
Amazonia Peru: Iquitos: Day 5 After a final morning of birding the forest around ACTS we will return on foot to Explornapo Lodge for a three nights stay. In the late afternoon we will have our first opportunity to explore our new surroundings.
Amazonia Peru: Iquitos: Days 6-7 From our new setting we shall explore the surrounding floodplain, the seasonally flooded varzea forest and visit the nearby river islands of various sizes dotting the Napo river in this part of Peru.
The piercing call of the Screaming Piha, so emblematic of Amazonian rainforest, is a common sound here, whilst above the din we shall be attentive for the mellifluous whistle of a smart male Purple-throated Cotinga from the canopy. The variety of tyrant flycatchers in these forests seems endless and within the forest interior we shall seek Ringed Antpipit, Short-tailed and Double-banded Pygmy-Tyrants, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher and Golden-crowned Spadebill. For years the Orange-eyed Flycatcher escaped recognition until the late Ted Parker noted its distinctive call from these very floodplain forests. Tracking the strident calls of a flock sentinel such as Fulvous Shrike-Tanager may lead us to a subcanopy flock made up of Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Spot-winged Antshrike, Rufous-bellied Euphonia, and Yellow-backed and Flame-crested Tanagers. Occasionally, Red-stained, Yellow-throated and Chestnut and Cream-coloured Woodpeckers get caught up in the excitement of such foraging flocks. Moving through the botanically diverse forest understorey are mixed flocks led by Cinereous and Dusky-throated Antshrikes giving sharp alarm calls heeded by Cinnamon-rumped Foliage-gleaner, White-flanked Antwren, and Spix’s and Wedge-billed Woodcreepers.
The floodplain canopy holds additional flocking species, including core members such as Lemon-throated and Gilded Barbets, Chestnut-shouldered Antwren, Zimmer’s (split from Yellow-margined) Flycatcher and Wing-barred Piprites. Away from the flocks, we may find a White-chinned Jacamar hawking insects near a tree fall, the impressive Red-necked Woodpecker drumming on venerable rainforest trunks, Buff-throated Foliage-Gleaner and Slate-coloured Antbird in understorey shrubs, or a Grey Antbird calling from a canopy vine tangle. We will also look to add to our manakin quota with Wire-tailed, Blue-crowned and Striped Manakin from the lower and middle growth of these inexhaustible forests. With calm persistence, we will attempt to lure terrestrial avian wonders like Banded Antbird or the striking Chestnut-belted Gnateater onto a fallen trunk or even spot a Thrush-like Antpitta vocalizing in the thick growth of a ‘light-gap’ or at the forest edge. If we are fortunate enough to find an ant swarm in the varzea, this time it could be accompanied by either Lunulated Antbird or Black-spotted Bare-eye. We may also come across the striking Black-necked Red-Cotinga, although in recent years these shy birds seem to have become less predictable.
Our first early morning foray to the accessible river islands of the Napo river will be exciting as we discover their distinctive avifauna. These newly exposed islands have predominantly younger successional scrub grading into Gynerium cane and taller Cecropia woodland, the favoured habitat of Lesser Hornero, White-bellied, Dark-breasted and Parker’s Spinetails, Castelnau’s Antshrike, and the striking Black-and-white Antbird. As we approach the shore we will look for Shiny Cowbirds and Yellow-hooded Blackbirds noisily vacating their roosts, Chestnut-bellied, Lined and Caquetá Seedeaters and Oriole Blackbirds singing from grassy margins, and smart White-headed Marsh-Tyrants sitting on low perches over the water’s edge. Passing through Tessaria scrub, we will look for Olive-spotted Hummingbird, Orange-headed Tanager and Yellow-browed Sparrow. Stands of young Tessaria are preferred by Lesser Wagtail-Tyrant and Riverside Tyrant, and grassy edges echo with the vocalizations of the Black-capped Donacobius. There is usually a roost of Sand-coloured Nighthawk near one of the islands.
Another of our morning birding trails through varzea forest leads to an oxbow lake where understorey thickets and flooded areas are inhabited by White-shouldered, Plumbeous, Silvered and Dot-backed Antbirds, Yellow-crowned Elaenia, Johannes’s Tody-Tyrant and Buff-breasted Wren. In trees overhead, we may find the retiring Slate-coloured Hawk, Amazonian Violaceous Trogon, Dusky-capped, Olive-faced (split from Yellow-breasted) and Grey-crowned Flycatchers, Little and Lineated Woodpeckers, Hauxwell’s Thrush, and Buff-throated Saltator. Depending on water levels, we will explore a nearby whitewater tributary of the Napo, which will no doubt result in more splendid bird sightings. Moving slowly along the river we will look for Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Agami Heron, Great Black-Hawk, American Pygmy and Green-and-rufous Kingfishers, Pied and Spotted Puffbirds, Black-chinned Antbird, Plum-throated Cotinga and the localized Velvet-fronted Grackle.
At clearings near the lodge we may find Grey-necked Wood-Rail, Sungrebe, Sunbittern, Rufous-breasted Hermit, Fork-tailed Woodnymph and with luck admire garrulous Blue-and-yellow Macaws in flight. Other possibilities quite likely during our birding at Explornapo are Speckled Chachalaca, Crane and Short-tailed Hawks, Pale-vented, Plumbeous and Ruddy Pigeons, Pheasant Cuckoo, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Pauraque, Short-tailed Swift, Pale-tailed Barbthroat, Amazonian Barred Woodcreeper, White-necked Thrush, the skulking Coraya Wren and Collared Gnatwren.
Amazonia Peru: Iquitos: Day 8 After some final birding at Explornapo Lodge we will head upstream on the Amazon river, eventually arriving at the Yanayacu river and Muyuna Lodge, where we will spend three nights.
In addition to previously mentioned species, likely species we will encounter on our river journey are Neotropic Cormorant, Snowy and Great Egrets, Little Blue, Capped and White-necked Herons, Black, Turkey, Greater Yellow-headed and King Vultures, Osprey, Roadside Hawk, Yellow-headed and Black Caracaras, Plumbeous and Swallow-tailed Kites, Black Skimmer, Spotted Sandpiper and Collared Plover, Smooth-billed Ani, Neotropical Palm-Swift, Ringed, Amazon and Green Kingfishers and Tropical Kingbird.
Amazonia Peru: Iquitos: Days 9-10 At Muyuna we will seek out the rare and threatened Wattled Curassow in an area of várzea forest with the help of our local guide. This area of Peru is the most accessible site in the entire Amazon basin to see this species, which is classified as Endangered due to hunting pressure on its very small population. The only other sites for the curassow are found in Bolivia and Brazil, where the birds either require a long hike or can be difficult to see.
Peru’s Muyuna Lodge features rich varzea, an oxbow lake and a nearby river island. These extensive floodplain habitats should yield Muscovy Duck, Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Black-collared Hawk, Hook-billed Kite, Laughing Falcon, Purple Gallinule, Wattled Jacana, Hoatzin, Little Cuckoo, Ladder-tailed Nightjar (at its daytime roost), Swallow-wing, Sulphury Flycatcher, White-eyed Attila and Lesser Kiskadee. Productive trails through varzea and riverine forest hold Cinereous and Undulated Tinamous, Blue Ground-Dove, Collared Trogon, Olivaceous and Striped Woodcreepers, Plain-crowned Spinetail, Great, Amazonian and Barred Antshrikes, Black-throated Antbird, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher, Olivaceous Flatbill, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Cinnamon Attila, Black-tailed Tityra, Varzea Schiffornis, Grey-headed Tanager, Lesser Seed-Finch and Solitary Cacique. Once thought to be endemic to Peru, and only recently found in neighbouring Brazil, the localized Black-tailed Antbird is relatively common here. The fascinating Pygmy Marmoset, the New World’s smallest primate, is also found here and we will make a special effort to locate a family group. By taking a short walk after dinner we will try to locate a Spectacled Owl by its reverberating call or the ominous-sounding Great Potoo.
This will also be our first opportunity to see several species of the south bank of the Amazon which we will not have visited until now. These south bank birds include Blue-cheeked Jacamar, Rufous-necked Puffbird and Saturnine Antshrike. Additional new species could include Boat-billed and Zigzag Herons, Blue-chinned Sapphire, Rose-fronted Parakeet, Chestnut-capped Puffbird, Rufous-capped Nunlet, Point-tailed Palmcreeper, Slender-billed Xenops, Amazonian Antshrike and Grey-chested Greenlet.
Amazonia Peru: Iquitos: Day 11 After some final birding at Muyuna Lodge we will transfer to the city of Iquitos and our comfortable air-conditioned hotel for the last three nights of the tour. Open country birds of widespread distribution that we may see around the city include Pearl Kite, Ruddy Ground-Dove, House Wren, Brown-chested and Grey-breasted Martins, Vermillion Flycatcher, Black-billed Thrush, Blue-black Grassquit, Red-breasted Blackbird and Shiny and Giant Cowbirds.
Amazonia Peru: Iquitos: Days 12-13 The white sandy soil forests not far from Iquitos made recent ornithological headlines when local conservationist José ‘Pepe’ Alvarez brought several undescribed bird species to light. Thanks to his efforts the Allpahuayo-Mishana Reserve was recently created to protect this distinctive forest community. We will have two full days here in search of Ancient Antwren, Allpahuayo Antbird, Mishana Tyrannulet and the recently-described, canopy-dwelling Iquitos Gnatcatcher. Here the flora is adapted to growing on very poor soils, and its herpetofauna and avifauna are likewise specialized.
Although these white-sand forests of Peru can be “defined by their silence”, a bit of persistence and luck will reward us with additional species of special occurrence including Brown-banded Puffbird, Pompadour Cotinga, Pearly Antshrike, Northern Chestnut-tailed (or Zimmer’s) Antbird, Orange-crested (or Orange-crowned) Manakin, Saffron-crested Tyrant-Manakin, Zimmer’s Tody-Tyrant, Fuscous “Campina” Flycatcher, Cinnamon-crested Spadebill, Citron-bellied Attila and Yellow-throated Flycatcher. More widespread species include Dusky-billed Parrotlet, Canary-winged Parakeet, Gould’s Jewelfront, White-chested Puffbird, Yellow-billed Nunbird, Scaly-breasted Woodpecker, Plain-throated Antwren, White-crowned and White-bearded Manakins, Rufous-tailed Flatbill, Greyish Mourner, Thrush-like Schiffornis, Dusky-capped Greenlet, Southern Nightingale-Wren and Red-legged Honeycreeper.
Amazonia Peru: Iquitos: Day 14 Our tour ends this morning at Iquitos airport.
(Most international flight connections out of Lima are in the evening, so it is easy to return from Iquitos to Lima in time to depart Peru today.)