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Black-collared Hawk

Black-collared Hawk, Amazon River, Peru

The Black-collared Hawk is an Accipitor, related to our Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned hawks from North America. It is seen, almost exclusively, sitting in snags beside rivers in the Amazon, watching for fish in the water. According to Birds of Peru, it is “uncommon but widespread” across Amazonia. We saw at least a dozen different individuals on our Wildside Nature Tours Amazon River Boat Adventure…all from the skiffs as we explored creeks off the main river. 

Our local guides like Black-collared Hawks because they are easy to play with: 1) catch or buy a small fish, 2) find a Black-collard Hawk in fishing stance along a creek, 3) throw the fish out from the skiff as far as you can. 4) watch the hawk dive and take the fish from the surface of the water. We had a fisherman with us…not a native…but one of our number who trailed a line in the water every day, and eventually, on our last day, caught a small catfish. We joked that if we had been dependent on him, we would not have had any fish for the Black-collared Hawks…but native fishermen were happy to sell us a few small fish most days. Most of the time, of course, the fish just sinks and the hawk just sits and, presumably, yawns…not interested. Or the fish drifts too far downriver for good photos before the hawk decides to take it. We tired with 4 hawks and only once got to see the full dive and catch. 

Some of you might be a bit uncomfortable at this point already, and I will admit I have strong feelings about baiting any animal  for the convenience of any photographer, including me. I don’t like it. I will also admit to being thrilled to see the dive of this beautiful hawk…something I would very likely never have seen without the efforts of our guides. There are ways of justifying this behaviour in this particular case…the hawks were put in no danger; we provided them with what amounted to an easy meal; while uncommon, the population of Black-collared Hawks in Amazonia as a whole is large and healthy; given the amount of tourism in the region, there is no chance the Black-collared Hawk will become dependent on human feeding, etc etc. And it is no different (and undoubtedly has less impact on the birds) than putting out bird feeders in the back yard and filling them with thistle and sunflower seed so that we can enjoy their company…but still, I do feel compelled to point out that we were feeding the hawk so that we could see…and photograph…it in its dive.

That said, it was certainly a thing of beauty to watch, and thrill to capture. Sony Rx10iii in my special action and flight mode (wide area continuous focus, minimum shutter speed ISO set to 1/1000th, -.3 EV.) Processed in Polarr and assembled in FrameMagic on my iPad Pro. 

Hoatzin Bird

Hoatzin, Amazon River, Peru

As part of the Wildside Nature Tours Amazon River Boat Adventure, we made two separate trips back into Oxbow Lakes off the Amazon to find the Hoatzin Bird. The Hoatzin is one of the oddest birds on earth, and no trip to the Amazon would be complete without a Hoatzin sighting. They are not hard to find, generally, as they are numerous, large (almost turkey size), noisy, and relatively unafraid of humans, but they tend to favor the oxbows, which are not always easily accessible from the main rivers. In some seasons you have to bushwhack to find them. In high water season, when we visited, we could take our skiffs through narrow, twisting channels in the flooded forest and get right out into the oxbows among the water lettuce and giant water lilies. 

In addition to its rather bizarre looks, the Hoatzin is unique among birds in having a digestive system that uses bacterial fermentation…in a special enlarged crop, ahead of the actual stomach…somewhat similar to the way a cow digests its food, and for the same reason. Hoatzins eat mainly leaves (from as many as 50 species of plants), and normal digestive processes would not extract enough nutrients from the tough cellulose matter to sustain life. The fermentation process is also responsible for the unpleasant manure like odor associated with the birds, which gives them their other name: stinkbird. The stink may also be responsible for their continued health as a species in a region where such a large and easyily hunted bird might otherwise be a target. As a final oddity, Hoatzin chicks have two functioning claws on the wings which help them to clamber around in the foliage at a young age to avoid predators. 

As you might expect with a bird this odd, there has been, and continues to be, much debate about where the Hoatzin fits in the scheme of bird life in general…who its closest relations are…where it came from in evolutionary terms, etc. It is so much a mystery that it has inspired only the 4th attempt to completely sequence the genome of a bird, at process that is ongoing at the moment. It is generally agreed, though, that it is an anchient off-shoot of the bird clan, and that it stands pretty much on its own. 

If you see a resemblance to a certain Disney bird character…it is no accident. The bird in question was consciously modeled on the Hoatzin, though the Disney folks worked with a broader palette. 

That is probably more than you wanted to know about the Hoatzin Bird, but it is a fascinating creature. Sony Rx10iii at 600mm equivalent. Program Mode. Processed in Polarr and assembled in FrameMagic on my iPad Pro. 

The Woolly Monkey Show

Woolly Monkey, Amazon River Tributary Creek, Peru.

We were exploring a creek off the Amazon River in skiffs, on our Wildside Nature Tours Amazon River Boat Adventure, when we found 2 Woolly Monkeys foraging in a tree right at the edge of the creek just above eye-level. One adult and one youngster, probably mother and child. Woolly Monkeys are not easy to see. They are the most aggressively hunted of the Amazon primates, and are getting scarce (they are considered “highly endangered” by the conservation community)…so this was a rare opportunity.  It is also rare to see them foraging this low…they tend to stay high in the canopy…but they enter flooded forest next to the rivers in season looking for fruits and berries. 

Woollys have a long, relatively heavy, and fully prehensile, tail. They use it as a fifth hand while climbing around in the trees looking for food. There is some debate, and they vary in weight over the course of a year depending on food supply, but they are at least tied for the honor of being the largest New World monkey. 

Both Woollys were fully aware of us in our skiffs as we watched and photographed them. The youngster was the shyer of the two, but even he/she was not all that concerned about us being there. At times our boats were within 10 feet of the branches and vines they were climbing. I don’t know how they knew we were not hunters…since the main predator of woolly monkeys (perhaps the only predator of adult Woollys) is man, but they seemed confident that we meant them no harm, and went about their business for as long as we watched…a half hour or more…and were still there foraging when we moved on.  

Most of us have seen monkeys (and great apes) in zoos, but it is a totally different experience to see them in the wild…in their own world, where we are only visitors. This encounter is certainly right up there with my most awesome wildlife experiences. It left me with a feeling of quiet wonder, and a rare awareness of undeserved privilege. 

Pygmy Marmosets

Pygmy Marmosets, Pacaya Samiria Reserve, Amazon River upriver from Iquitos

On our Wildside Nature Tours Amazon River Boat Adventure, we visited a small village in the Pacaya Samiria Reserve on the  River above Iquito, Peru to check the trees for Pygmy Marmosets. Pygmy Marmosets chew small holes in trees and eat the gummy sap that collects in the holes. It is the only time you are likely to see the marmosets anywhere below the canopy, and you will not see them in the canopy, so knowing where the trees they feed on is essential if you want to see them at all. The villagers at this location clearly expect a regular traffic of visitors who come to see their monkeys, as they have one of the larger displays of craft tables we saw along the river, and semi-permanent shelters for them. 

And Pygmy Marmosets are certainly worth seeing. They are the world’s smallest primate, at about 4 inches long (not counting the 8 inch tail). I found various figures for their weight, but most sources put them somewhere in the 3.5 ounce range. They are, needless to say, too cute. They have a typical monkey attitude, and the direct, totally aware, gaze of any of our cousins. They very definitely look back you. The one that appears to be sticking out his tongue at me is really only chewing gum. 

We had an even closer encounter with the Pygmy Marmosets when we visited a Shaman at her healing center, where two went about their gummy business near the base of a tree only a few feet from us…but the light was certainly better higher in the trees of our first sighting. 

Sony Rx10iii at 600mm equivalent. Program Mode. I have the ISO set to a maximum of 1600 so these shots are all at 1600 ISO, and at relatively show shutter speeds, shot off my bean-bag monopod (my beanpod). Processed in Polarr and assembled in Frame Magic on my iPad Pro. 

White-winged Parakeets 

Yellow-winged Parakeets, Amazon River, Peru

On the Wildside Nature Tours Amazon River Boat Adventure, we went out on a misty morning to visit a permanent island in the Amazon upriver from Iquitos to see the many thousands of White-winged Parakeets (Canary Winged in non-USA field guides) that roost there for the night. We were a bit late getting off, and as we approached the island, the sky was full of flock after flock of Parakeets, each several hundred birds, lifting off to go foraging in the local rainforest. I was afraid they might be all gone by the time we got around to the other side of the island where they prefer to roost…but there were still thousands there when we arrived…bending down the reeds with their weight. As you see from the image, what you see when you look at the Parakeets is a yellow-winged bird. The yellow is edged with white…visible in the open wing…hence its US name…but there is no doubt that Canary Winged is more accurate and more descriptive. 

One of the reasons we were late to the Parakeets was that we stopped on the other, near, side of the island where equal numbers of Yellow-rumped Caciques roost. Two for one. 🙂 We also hundreds of Fork-tailed Flycatchers and one lone Ringed Kingfisher on the island.

Sony Rx10iii at 600mm equivalent. Program mode. Processed and cropped in Polarr on my iPad Pro. 

Crane Hawk vs Slate-colored Hawk

Top: Crane Hawk, Bottom: Slate-colored Hawk. Amazon River, Peru

We saw a lot of raptors along the Amazon and its tributaries, which should not have been surprising, but, somehow, was. When selecting this morning’s pic of the hawk in the top frames, I thought, “Oh I have photos of this hawk from later in the trip.” but when I looked up the bird in Birds of Peru, and checked my later pics, I realized that they were two different species. The top frames are the Crane Hawk, and the bottom frames are the Slate-colored Hawk. The field guide says the Crane Hawk is “slender” and the Slate-colored is “chunky” but from the angles here that is certainly not an easy distinction. There are also subtle differences in the tail bands, and tail length…but the main difference is, of course, the cere…gray in the Crane Hawk, and orange in the Slate-colored. Both hawks are listed as wide-spread but uncommon in the Amazon basin. I see no reason really, why there should be two plain gray hawks with red-orange legs along the same stretch of Amazon River, unless to deliberately confuse birders, but then it was not my decision to make 🙂 

Sony Rx10iii at 600mm equivalent. Program mode. Processed in Polarr and assembled in Frame Magic on my iPad Pro. 

Red-bellied Macaw

Red-bellied Macaw, Amazon River near Iquitos

We saw at least 3 species of Macaw on the Amazon River Boat Adventure with Wildside Nature Tours, two of them perched where we could get a good look. The Red-bellied Macaw was the smallest and least colorful, but still…a Macaw in the wild! This bird was high up in a dead snag and a good ways away, so I pulled my Nikon P900 out of its bag for the first (and last) time on the trip. The 2000mm equivalent zoom brought the bird in close enough to enjoy. 

Nikon P900 at 2000mm equivalent and Program Mode. Processed in Polarr and assembled in Frame Magic on my iPad Pro. 

Black Capped Donacobius

Black Capped Donacobius, Amazon River, Peru

I am going to drop back and work through some images from our Wildside Nature Tours River Boat tour on the Amazon River in Peru. Toward the end of our first day on the river, motoring upriver from Iquitos, we pulled out in the skiffs to explore a little creek. We were rewarded with a Road-side Hawk (should be River-side Hawk don’t you think?) and a few other birds. Almost back to the river boat, well after sunset, I spotted this bird in the brush along the bank, and we stopped for a look and some pics. The Black Capped Donacobius is between the Wrens and the Mockingbirds in Birds of Peru, but it is the only member, so far, of its family, and there has been constant debate as to its relations and placement in the world of birds. It was once considered a Mockingbird, then moved in with the Wrens. Now there is doubt that it is either. The consensus is moving toward placing it as a far flung outcast of a family of smaller warbler like African birds from the Indian Ocean area on the basis of some physical and some behavior characteristics. Hard to say where it will settle, but it is pretty clear that it is alone in the Americas, without any close relations. It is common in marshes along rivers, and certainly common in the Amazon basin both in Peru and Brazil. We would encounter it several times in our exploration of creeks along the Amazon. 

Sony Rx10iii at 600mm equivalent. Program Mode. ISO 1600 @ f4 @ 1/125th. (Low light indeed.) Processed in Polarr on my iPad Pro. 

Nacza Boobie in flight

Nacza Boobie, Espanola, the Galapagos, Ecuador

Sometimes all things conspire for a photo that might otherwise have been very difficult. I was standing on a cliff on Espanola Island in the Galapagos watching Nacza Boobies on the nesting grounds and though about catching one in flight…so I switched the camera to my custom action mode, brought it up to my eye, and this Boobie came into the frame. I got off three shots before it was out of frame. Just happens. 🙂

Sony Rx10iii at 600mm equivalent field of view. Action mode (Minimum shutter speed 1/1000 Auto ISO, continuous wide area focus). Processed in Polarr on my iPad Pro. 

Whip Snake

Whip Snake, Amazon River, Peru

One of the guides at Pacaya Samiria National Reserve found this Whip Snake and brought it in for our delight. It always amazes me that these snakes can apparently levitate themselves by muscle power alown. 

Sony Rx10iii in my action mode with continuous focus deal with the wriggling snake. Processed in Polarr on my iPad Pro.