Friday, September 11, 2015

An Amazon Odyssey!

We returned to Cuiaba the morning of September 5 for the 1 hour flight to Alta Floresta, the gateway to the Southern Amazon.  Our destination was the Cristalino Lodge set in an 28,167-acre private reserve along the Cristalino River in the Southern Amazon.   It is just north of Alta Floresta on the map below:

Cristalino Lodge, North of Alta Floresta

We met our guide, Stephan, who was to accompany us during our stay.  That afternoon we visited one of the 165-foot observation towers on the property.  As we approached the tower we could see a large troop of White-whiskered Spider Monkeys feeding in a tree nearby.  These monkeys are endemic (only found here) to the area and were one of the animals I had wanted to see.  We climbed the tower to get a better view of these agile primates.  They swung from branch to branch with ease using their strong prehensile tails.  Many of the females had tiny babies attached to their tummies or hanging onto their backs.

White-Whiskered Spider Monkey

We watched the troop as they fed on the tender new leaves.  As dusk approached the monkeys moved off to more dense vegetation for the night.  One remained behind.  "Was he a sentry keeping a lookout for predators, an old member that couldn't keep up or had the troop simply forgotten him?" I wondered.   From below another monkey climbed back up to the abandoned individual.  "Had she returned to help the elder down?" I naively thought.  Wrong, she had returned for a bit of monkey business!  The couple proceeded to mate high up in the canopy!

White-whiskered Spider Monkeys Mating

We watched as the monkeys unabashedly performed for a good 30 minutes!  When their secret trist was over they nonchalantly resumed feeding.  Wow, what a start to our visit!

The next day we revisited the tower and the monkeys were still feeding in the vicinity.  The monkeys behaved themselves and we were able to focus on the birds.  We saw many species but my favorites were the Black-faced Dacnis and the Curl-crested Aracari.

Black-faced Dacnis

Curl-crested Aracari
That afternoon Stephan took us to a hide set up in the forest.  On the boat ride to the blind, Stephan spotted a small troop of Spix's Red-handed Howler Monkeys in the trees along the river - another new primate species for us.
Spix's Red-handed Howler Monkey

The boat driver dropped us off and we hiked a short distance into the forest to a wooden bench hidden with palm fronds so we could sit and watch the secretive forest birds that came to drink at a "bird bath" set up nearby.  We were concerned that the thunderstorms in the area might prevent the birds from coming but after a slow start they arrived in spades.  A total of 16 species including Snow-capped and White-capped Manakins, Spotted-backed Antbird, White-winged Shrike Tanager and Bare-eyed Antbirds came to drink.

Snow-capped Manakin

Spot-backed Antbird

Bare-faced Antbird
As we returned to the lodge along the river we used a spotlight to search the banks for nocturnal creatures.  Two species of caiman, the Spectacled and the Dwarf, ply the waters here.

Dwarf Caiman

On our second full day we did a hike in the morning to a rocky outcrop above the rainforest.  On the way we passed through a bamboo thicket where we heard Dusky Titi monkeys calling.  These shy primates are nearly impossible to see in the dense tangles of bamboo and we had to settle for hearing them only.  We paused at a dead tree where Stephan challenged us to find the bird.  I had no difficulty.  Can you spot the bird in the following photo?

Can you Find the Bird?

From the viewpoint we could see over miles of unbroken primary rainforest interspersed with dry patches on the higher ridges.

View Over the Rainforest

On the walk back from the viewpoint Stephan became very excited by a tiny bird he spotted in the forest.  The bird perched on a nearby branch giving us great views and many photographic opportunities.  Stephan identified the bird as a Rusty-breasted Nunlet and confirmed that it has only been seen at the lodge 6 times!

Rusty-breasted Nunlet

We were enjoying another delicious lunch when one of the lodge guests told her guide that she spotted some monkeys near the floating dock.  She showed him a photo she had taken and he told her they were White-nosed Bearded Saki Monkeys!  There's no time to eat when there are animals to look at.  I rushed off to see them and arrived as they were foraging low in the trees.  Marc joined me and was able to get some good shots.

White-nosed Bearded Saki Monkey
These monkeys have pink noses, not white.  Where did their name come from?  It turns out these Sakis got their name from a dead specimen where the skin on and around the nose had faded to white. I was thrilled to get such a close look at these endangered monkeys endemic to this region of Brazil.

As we headed back to the restaurant we could hear what sounded like someone chopping down a tree with an ax.  As we peered into the rainforest we could see that the noise was made by the Brown Capuchin monkeys trying to open Brazil nuts!  They were banging the massive nuts against the tree branches in an attempt to crack them open.   
Brown Capuchin with a Brazil Nut

That afternoon we cruised the black water of the Christalino River looking for animals and birds coming to drink. We came around a bend in the river and Stephan spotted a Brazilian Tapir lounging in the water to escape the heat and biting flies.  He fled into the forest at our approach but soon returned and put on quite a show for us.

Brazilian Tapir

The Brazilian or South American Tapir is the largest land mammal in South America.  Tapirs are excellent swimmers and divers and feed on aquatic plants, fruits, grasses and leaves.  They have a mobile snout resembling a mini elephant trunk that they use as a snorkel when swimming.
Brazilian Tapir

We saw 3 more tapirs further upriver but they didn't stick around long.  

After dinner we took a walk around the lodge looking for the resident Azara's Night Monkeys.  We heard a rustling in the forest and went to investigate.  Our torch revealed a Southern Tamandua or Lesser Anteater foraging for termites and ants!

Southern Tamandua

The next morning we visited the second tower on the other side of the river.  

Marc Climbing the Tower

The birds were out in full force feeding on a caterpillar swarm in the nearby trees.  I recorded 33 species but I'm sure Stephan saw many more.  My favorites were the Pompadour Cotinga and the Red-necked Aracari.

Pompadour Cotinga

Red-necked Aracari

On our fourth and final night we went out before dinner in a last attempt to find the night monkeys. Stephan spotted a very tiny mouse hiding under a dried Cecropia leaf and we got a glimpse of a Four-eyed Opposum but no monkeys.  After dinner Marc and I went out to search for the monkeys on our own.  We were down near the floating dock when Stephan came running up.  He and his wife Claudia had found the monkeys near the boat launch!  We rushed off to where Claudia was waiting with the monkeys still in view.  We were actually seeing one of the three subspecies of Azara's Night Monkey, the Feline Night Monkey (Aotus azarae infulatus).  These tiny primates are monogamous with the males staying around to help raise the babies and provide food.

Feline Night Monkey 

On our final walk the following morning we encountered a family of Collared Peccaries trotting down the trail.  They paused just long enough for Marc to get a photo.

Collared Peccaries

Although our stay was brief we managed to find with Stephan's expert help many of Cristalino's spectacular birds.  With a whopping 586 species of birds this area is a birdwatchers' paradise.  We were also very lucky with the mammals seeing at least 14 different species.  Many thanks to Stephan and the staff at Cristalino Lodge for making our stay very rewarding and extremely memorable!
We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc

For those of you who have made it to the bottom of this post here is the answer to the bird quiz.  The bird is located in the center of the photo on the right side of the tree.  It is a Common Potoo, a nocturnal bird related to Nightjars.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That is one well hidden bird! nice.