Amazon Basin: June 15 – June 27
Cheryl Antonucci, Paul Carter, Holly Faithful, Jon Hall, Charles Hood, Marcelo Henrique Marcos, Jose Gabriel Martinez, Amber Melhouse, Judy Parrish, Fiona Reid, Micah Riegner, Hari & Venkat Sankar, Ian Thompson, Phil Telfer, Ignacio Yufera plus Captain (Moacir Fortes) Junior and the crew of the M.V. Dorinha.
When I first met Fiona Reid in 2012 we talked about how much she enjoyed the cruises she had organised around the Amazon basin. These trips, featuring restricted range primates and a multitude of bats, rodents and caipirinhas, sounded fabulous.
And so I jumped at the chance when she asked if would like to help organise a trip in 2017. First, I could help fill the boat with a hand-picked selection of the great and the good from mammalwatching.com, to ensure the company was good, and that we’d be focused on mammals not birds. Second, getting involved early on gave me a chance to ensure we took a route featuring the maximum number of species I hadn’t seen.
The rest is history. And on 14 June 2017, Amber, Fiona, Phil Telfer and I flew into Manaus from Miami to meet the rest of the group at the Tropical Hotel.
Manaus airport was curiously efficient. The speed of immigration and baggage delivery lulled us into a false sense of security. This was soon shattered at the hotel check in, which took 30 minutes, despite no queue and enough staff behind the desk to organise a soccer match. This was the Brazil I know and love.
Thursday 15 June
Onwards from Manaus
Boto, Inia geoffrensis. Photo Ignacio Yufera
Fiona had arranged a small bus to drive us to the Musa Tower at Reserva Duque, a 10 x 10km patch of rainforest about 40 minutes out of town. The tower can be good for several primates, including Red Howlers. We spent a couple of hours there – from 6 a.m – 8 a.m. No primates but a Yellow-throated Squirrel (split from Guianan Squirrel) was confiding in the top of a tree next to the 50 m high tower and the first lifer for most of us.
On the way back to the bus we had a nice look at a Red-rumped Agouti. This species is common along the trails at the park.
Back at the hotel we were anxious to see Pied Tamarins. This species has a highly restricted range centred on Manaus, and ought to be quite easy to see in a few places, including the hotel grounds. But several people had tried different sites the day before and failed. We looked briefly around the hotel gardens before breakfast and saw nothing other than a run in with some – apparently stingless – wasps.
If you are staying at the Tropical Hotel it is hopefully for the primates and not for their breakfast (or their rooms for that matter). So after bolting down some dubious eggs and coffee we were back in the hotel grounds.
It did not take long to relocate a Pale-throated Three-toed Sloth that several of the group had seen the day before. A lifer for me and a nice bonus as this was a species we would be unlikely to encounter over the next two weeks. Fiona’s whistling worked well in getting its attention.
But by 11 a.m. we were still monkey-less. Our group dispersed to prepare for checkout. Just as Amber and I were arriving back at our room a camera flash alerted us to a breathless Jose Gabriel at the other end of the long long corridor. He had spent the last 10 minutes scouring the hotel for me: Holly had found some Pied Tamarins.
It took at least ten minutes to get anywhere from our room in this enormous hotel. And so 11 minutes later we were in the hotel’s mini zoo, looking at some beautiful (wild) Pied Bare-faced Tamarins, before turning our attention to the saki monkeys with them, that were also very obliging.
We thought these must be White-faced Sakis, though they look quite different to the Guianan variety of this species and indeed we discovered later that this was a different species: the Golden-faced Saki.
Delighted with this flying start we joined the glacial queue for hotel checkout and from there to the boat, now tied up in the river behind the hotel.
Our home for the next two weeks would be the Dorinha, a small Amazon cruiser, with 12 passenger cabins and three decks, captained by the ebullient Junior, following in his father’s footsteps in the company his dad had started.
The boat was a lot more comfortable than I had imagined: air conditioned cabins with private bathrooms and fabulous food, including perpetual supplies of cake, freshly baked at 5 a.m. by the ever-smiling Eugenia in her tiny kitchen. This was not going to be a tough trip.
We towed three motorised canoes behind the boat for exploring the backwaters and flooded forest each day.
In mid-June the annual Amazon flood had just peaked and the water was a mind-boggling 15 metres higher than it would be in a few months. As a result a lot of flooded forest is accessible to smaller boats at this time of year and it is the very best season to look for primates (and the very worst time of year to look for Manatees). Although this is the dry season it still rains of course, though in fact not very often. Perhaps we were lucky, but we lost only one evening to rain. It probably rained every three days or so, but usually not during peak mammal watching hours.
Fiona and I had deliberately not filled the boat to capacity, to help ensure that – whether we were walking the trails or paddling the canoes – the group would be compact enough to give everyone a chance to see an animal at the same time. Fiona was spot on in her planning: we all got onto nearly every animal we saw. This was really quite something and Junior, our captain, said he had never had a group so able to get onto animals so quickly. He proudly told us at the end of the trip that he had barely used his laser pointer, when for some trips changes the batteries several times.
Fiona and I filled the boat with people that we either knew, or felt we knew, from their trip reports. These were my kind of people! The sort who promised they wouldn’t get distracted by birds no matter how garishly colourful. The sort who know an armadillo from an anteater. The sort who would sell their close relatives into slavery if it would increase our chances of more mammals. Well I like to think they would have, or is that just me?
We were also very fortunate in having some superb guides in addition to Fiona. Three additional biologists were worth their weight in gold: Brazilian bat biologist Marcelo Marcos (who raises the benchmark to a whole new level when you want to define “great guy”); Nicaragua’s Jose-Gabriel Martinez, a more Latin, more modest, version of Steve Irwin who is superb in the field and behind a camera; and American biology student, artist and guide, Micah Riegner, who was remarkably good at finding things with both his eyes and ears, and was a fount of Amazonian knowledge.
They came along to increase – significantly – our chances of netting, grabbing and spotting anything with a pulse. We had assembled the mammal watching equivalent of the Navy Seals. I was excited. Very.
After a welcome caipirinhia, the first of many (and guess who had the biggest bar bill…) we set sail down the Rio Solimoes to the Janauari area and took an afternoon cruise in the canoes along a channel that connects the Solimoes to the Rio Negro.
This was our first taste of paddling through the flooded forest and many of us were impressed with the skill of the boatmen. We only got more impressed as the days went on. Here’s a video.
Just before dark we had reasonable looks at several groups of Humboldt’s Squirrel Monkeys (which others see as a separate species and some – including me – are inclined to treat as a subspecies of Common Squirrel Monkey), Venezuelan Red Howlers and, right on dusk, Humboldt’s White-fronted Capuchins (Cebus albifrons).
Spotlighting along the river after dark was fun. We saw several Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths, as well as both Greater and Lesser Fishing Bats.
Fiona picked up some eyeshine in a tree that my thermal scope helped relocate: a spectacular Giant Tree Rat, with an exceptionally long tail.
Dinner and a drink or two pretty well finished me off for the night as the boat steamed down the river to the Rio Madeira.
I slept deeply, lulled by the rumble of the engine and the starlight through the window.
Friday 16 June
Sailing up the Madeira River
After sailing all night, and an introduction to the boat’s unforgettable wake-up alarm, we pulled up at Urucurituba Island on the Madeira River. Not a great mammal spot but a place to break our journey towards richer pastures.
The only mammal on a two hour canoe trip was a Frosted White-lined Bat, that Jose Gabriel spotted roosting on a tree. We couldn’t find the Red-nosed Tree Rats we were looking for.
We sailed on down the Madeira, past Pink River Dolphins most often hanging out in turbid water where creeks flow into the river which increases the availability of prey.
In the mid-afternoon we pulled up at Paquienque Village near the small town of Novo Olinda do Norte. Our targets here were Gold and White Marmosets and Lake Baptista Titis.
After some discussion about whether to look on foot or from canoes, we decided to go with Junior’s suggestion and walk along a quiet road. I use the term “road” loosely.
And I use the term “walk” loosely. Because someone – Paul I think – described the afternoon as a death march. We covered the two km in each direction at high speed, losing a litre or two of sweat in the process – it was a hot, hot afternoon. And there were no monkeys, though a local farmer happily told us we had just missed some marmosets by thirty minutes.
We collapsed into the canoes just before dark and Fiona took us up a creek looking for primates. Though we couldn’t find any marmosets we did – somewhat unexpectedly for this area – see our first Amazon Black Howlers of the trip. Cheryl was delighted to see her most wanted mammal of the trip so soon.
My camera stopped working. The first victim of the death march. Fiona, ever accommodating to a guy in need, said I could do what I wanted with her body.
After dark we heard a Bamboo Rat but, before we could look for it, my thermal scope found a Red-nosed Tree Rat, the species we had failed to see in the morning. It was sitting in a fork of a tree with two babies.
Around a bend in the river we spotted a Southern Two-toed Sloth, a lifer for me and a species most of the others in the group had seen at the hotel in Manaus the night I arrived. One I was already fretting about finding on my return. It was a relief to cross it off my “mammals I need to worry about seeing when I get off the boat” list.
We saw the first Amazon Tree Boa of the trip. Their bright eyeshine was to be a constant source of false alarms over the next two weeks.
There were swarms of bats over and just above the river. Greater Fishing Bats were all over the place, as well as at least two species of white ghost bats, one large and one small. Call recordings indicate that the larger species was Northern Ghost Bat (Diclidurus albus) but the smaller species remains something of a mystery.
Back at the boat a happy Jose Gabriel and Marcelo joined us fresh from the bat nets with a clutch of species they’d caught in a few hours.
A sweet Dwarf Little Fruit Bat, Rhinophylla pumilio was a nice catch. They had also caught three short-tailed bats: Carollia perspicillata, brevicauda and benkeithi (a recent split from C. castanea and new for most of us).
They had two fruit-eating bat species: Flat-faced Fruit-eating Bat, Artibeus planirostris, and a Dark Fruit-eating Bat, Artibeus obscurus (also new for me).
We were particularly excited by capture of a rare Pale-faced Bat, Phylloderma stenops: this was a species Jose Gabriel had tried – but not been able – to catch for me during our epic 2016 trip around Nicaragua.
Last – but certainly not least – was a very cool Striped Hairy-nosed Bat, Mimon crenulatum. A great looking animal!
Saturday 17 June
Sailing down the Parana Uraria
We were in the canoes at 5.30 a.m to pick up Eliseo, our guide from the village who had been with us yesterday.
Within a few minutes we saw our first Bare-eared Squirrel Monkeys. A little further on we picked up the faint high pitched whistles of Gold and White Marmosets. Several animals posed well for us: a really smart looking primate.
An hour or so later, down a second creek, the eagle-eyed – and eagle-eared it turns out – Emmerson from the Dorinha’s crew – heard a Lake Baptisita Titi chirrup.
Five minutes later we had a spectacular encounter with an animal belting out its manic donkey impersonation in a branch right above the canoes. Without doubt my closest and noisiest titi monkey encounter, as this video might convey.
What a morning! But it wasn’t over. We found both Brown-throated Three toed Sloths and Southern Two-toed Sloths, and then my thermal scope picked up a couple of roosting Frosted White-lined Bats, Saccopteryx canescens.
Another bat, in among a group of Proboscis Bats, looked a little different and Fiona showed considerable agility to catch it in a hand net. It was another Frosted White-lined Bat.
Back on the boat we sailed up the river for three hours. The top deck full of the sounds of people enjoying the pods of Pink and Grey River Dolphins.
In the late afternoon we took the canoes along the Canuma River looking for Ashy-Grey Titi Monkeys. We couldn’t find any, but we did get better looks at more Bare-eared Squirrel Monkeys and a brief glimpse of two Spix’s White-fronted Capuchin, Cebus unicolor. Some see these as split from Cebus albifrons and I treat them that way here.
After a sundowner beer we took the canoes to go find Jose Gabriel and Marcelo at their bat nets.
We couldn’t find them or their nets. And though we ought to have been worried we soon forgot about them after being distracted by a large rat (a Red-nosed Tree Rat most probably), a Southern (Common) Opossum high in a tall tree, and better looks at sleeping Spix’s White-fronted Capuchins. All found with the thermal scope. There were plenty more ghost and fishing bats too along the river.
The batmen eventually returned to the boat with four species.
A robust Great Fruit Eating Bat.
A fragile little Proboscis Bat. And a far from fragile Common Vampire Bat, which caused a bit of a stir after it bit Fiona and ran across the cabin floor – and Venkat’s feet – before being recaptured.
The fourth species was a gorgeous Northern Little Yellow-eared Bat, Vampyressa thyone, a lifer for me, Jose Gabriel and most others on board.
I found the energy somehow to force a beer down before collapsing into bed at 11p.m. Tough life.
Sunday 18 June
On the Abacaxis River
Today was an important morning: we had arrived at Barra Mansa Village on the Abacaxis River to try to see the very localised Satere Marmoset. This was potentially the toughest primate of the trip. Though some of the boat’s crew had seen them here before, Fiona had visited several times and dipped. It was not going to be easy.
We picked up Bode (prounced Bodgy, like Dodgy), a local guide and walked a narrow trail through the forest. Before too long we heard a titi monkey and got a decent look.
But this was not the Hoffmann’s Titi Monkey thought to be in range here. It was an Ashy-grey Titi, a species not supposed to be on this side of the river. Great news as it was the titi we had failed to find yesterday and would very soon be out of range. Its body was uniformly grey with a dark face and a long and rather narrow tail.
Half an hour further into the forest we came across an extremely odd fossorial reptile: a Red Worm Lizard (Amphisbaena alba).
And then Micah, who is just fabulous with bird and mammal calls, heard marmosets in the distance. After a half hour of whistling and call playback we had honed in on the animals. They sounded very close but we couldn’t see them.
The monkeys hadn’t counted on a thermal scope though. And when I looked through it I got onto a Satere Marmoset quietly watching us from high in a nearby tree. Everyone got good views of a couple of animals and Ignacio managed to take some fabulous pictures. I was secretly pleased my camera was broken so I wouldn’t have to compare my own work alongside his.
After breakfast we took a trip along the other side – the west bank – of the river and down some channels. It was late in the morning and and very hot, but there was a vague chance we might see Maues Marmosets here. So vague in fact I almost contemplated skipping the canoe trip for a hammock.
Twenty minutes into the trip Venkat and I heard some very loud marmoset whistling, presumably from Micah’s tapes. But when I turned around I saw the other canoe gesturing wildly towards the bank. At least ten Maues Marmosets were moving through the vegetation along the bank.
Yet again Ignacio managed to take great photos before several people had even seen the animals. He has superpowers. I realised that if my camera had been working I would have smashed it to pieces with a hammer after seeing Ignacio’s pictures.
Three new primates in a morning. Fabulous work. Our spirits were high and a little smug too.
After lunch we dropped the bat guys off near the village and travelled back along the river for 90 minutes to Peixinho Creek, an area we were told was good for night monkeys (Black-headed Night Monkeys presumably).
A late afternoon cruise produced no mammals at all. After dark we eventually found a single Red-nosed Tree Rat and the only Kinkajou of the trip, a species Fiona told us was uncommon along these rivers. And then we learned that the local name for Kinkajous is “night monkey”. Oh well. It was a lifer for several people and never a dull animal to watch.
The evening’s batting was quite disappointing but did produce two new species for the trip along with the usual carollias and other common species: a Lesser White-lined Bat, Saccopteryx leptura and a pretty Fischer’s Little Fruit Bat, Rhinophylla fischerae, a lifer for me.
We carried on sailing and at 11.30 p.m. most of us went out for another canoe ride along a creek that had been great for Amazon Bamboo Rats the year before. They were still in residence and we could hear their booming calls as soon as we entered the creek.
It didn’t take long to see a few and we had a great encounter with one animal that moved backwards and forwards over some low shrubbery right in front of us. Even if you don’t like rodents as much as I do, you would surely be impressed by these beasts.
The thermal scope also picked up several smaller animals, one of which we saw well enough to be reasonably sure it was a Bicolored Rice Rat. These smaller rats were sitting frozen on top of reeds.
Monday 19 June
Sailing along the Parana Uraria and the Maues River
After sailing through the night we took a canoe trip at dawn near to where the Parana Uraria meets the Rio Paraconi.
One of Fiona’s previous trips had seen some titi monkeys here that did not seem to correspond to any of the described species found close by. We couldn’t find them and the only primates that morning were a few distant Spix’s White-fronted Capuchins.
We found a few roosting bats on tree trunks in the flooded forest: Proboscis and Frosted White-lined Bats and then my first Amazonian White-lined Bats on a trunk a few metres up. Although we weren’t able to catch them, their small size, dark fur and absence of obvious white lines meant Fiona was sure of their ID.
Back on the boat, one of Paul’s traps had caught a rat on board: presumably the same rat that Holly had spotted yesterday. The animal escaped, but – after a flurry of excitement – we decided it was most probably a Rattus rattus. It had quite likely been on the ship since Manaus, an was not the jungle stowaway we initially imagined.
We sailed on down the Maues stopping briefly at the small town of Maues for supplies. I may have had an ice cream.
From there we turned down the Rio Ribeiro and an hour later we were in the canoes exploring some flooded forest where Fiona had seen a pair of Neotropical Pygmy Squirrels a year before. Very little seems to be known about this species and few naturalists have even seen one. Yet, amazingly, it took just five minutes for Cheryl to spot something moving high in the canopy. It gave several tantalisingly brief – but good – views high up on a tree just metres from where Fiona had seen one a year ago. A Neotropical Pygmy Squirrel!
After some spectacular acrobatics, including 180 degree spins and an enormous leap, relative to its tiny body size, it charged off into the distance.
After dark we found a couple of Red-nosed Tree Rats with the thermal scope and nothing else.
Jose Gabriel and Marcelo caught nothing new in a few hours netting and we sailed on through the night.
Tuesday 20 June
Near Novo Jerusalem
We woke near the small settlement of Novo Jerusalem on the Rio Parauri. After the obligatory 5 a.m. fresh cake and coffee we were in the canoes looking for Hoffmann’s Titis, or, in Portuguese, Zogue Zogs (pronounced Zoggy Zogs much to my delight).
We couldn’t find the titis but we did find a large group of Maues Marmosets, which gave a series of tantalisingly brief views. Junior was impressed: this was the first trip ever to see Maues Marmosets twice.
And shortly afterwards we became the first group to see Maues Marmosets three times when we found another group a kilometre or so into the forest along an interesting trail that leads, eventually, to a campina. Campinas are islands of different vegetation, growing in poor soil, in the middle of the jungle. They have some their own set of bird species so Micah – a birder at heart – was keen to explore. But it wasn’t all that obvious the mammals would be any different… So Micah headed off to spend a couple of nights birding alone in the forest and we returned to the boat getting a brief look at a couple of squirrels that Paul spotted high in the canopy. Guianan Squirrels based on the half second glimpse I got.
My afternoon – like so many on this trip – was spent largely asleep in a hammock after a refreshing dip in the river. Bliss.
The forest had changed by late afternoon as we got further down the Maues. Much higher banks and taller trees stood over the river.
Still on the Rio Parauari, and close to the mouth of Amana River, we looked for monkeys but didn’t find any from the boat, nor from canoe rides before and after sunset. The only mammals were a couple of Red-nosed Tree Rats, though a superb Rainbow Boa was a source of considerable excitement for many on the boat including Junior. This was the first he had seen in 20 years.
Under Fiona’s direction, Jose Gabriel and Marcelo set a double bat net on the roof of the boat in an attempt to try to catch the uncatchable ghost bats as we sailed on through the night. We didn’t catch anything but it was fun to try.
Wednesday 21 June
The Amana River
We travelled along the Amana River overnight and woke in the morning at the base of the Sal waterfall, considerably further upstream than we had expected to be.
The water was higher this year than last, and so we had been able to travel a couple of hours further upstream than the boat in 2016 had managed.
We climbed up the side of the waterfall, and loitered around a small settlement supporting a gold mine until we were able to arrange a canoe ride to a cave that Fiona had visited in 2016.
This really was a goldmine! The shallow sandstone cave and arch next to it contained plenty of bats, and Fiona, Paul, Jose Gabriel and Marcelo managed to catch several very nice species using handnets.
Most of the bats in the main cave we saw were Greater Dog-like Bats a lifer for me, including a very rare albino specimen.
Last year Fiona had caught White-winged Dog-like Bats here. We caught several similar looking bats but, on closer inspection, they all proved to be Pallid-winged Dog-like Bats, Peropteryx pallidoptera.
A recently described species that Marcelo had never seen and a lifer for everyone other than Fiona, who co-wrote the original species description.
Jose Gabriel caught a small nectar-feeding bat that proved to be the wonderfully illogically-named Tailed Tailess Bat, Anoura caudifer.
Jose also caught a spear-nosed bat, which excited even Fiona: a Guianan Spear-nosed Bat, Phyllostomus latifolius. A species she had never seen.
What a morning. A fabulous cave and four new species for me. For several of us, including me, this morning proved to be the highlight of the trip.
This was the furthest we were to get from Manaus and the half way point of the trip. We travelled a few hours back along the river during the afternoon, and during a couple of canoe trips to look for primates, found only some Amazon Black Howlers that Emmerson’s super powers got onto at dusk.
A late canoe trip, after a BBQ on deck, separated the obsessed from the keen and only a few of us went out. But there was a good deal of action along the river. The thermal scope found numerous rats, one of which was positively identified as yet another Red-nosed Tree Rat, while the other was our first Common Spiny Tree Rat, Mesomys hispidus: its hairy tail and Phil’s pictures enough for Fiona to pronounce an ID the next day.
We also saw a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth and some sleeping Amazon Black Howlers.
The bat guys caught only a very few species despite seven nets set in the forest and a double net on top of the boat. The only bat new for the trip was a Common Long-tongued Bat, Glossophoga soricina.
Thursday 22 June
Back to Novo Jerusalem
We began the day south of Maues, near the border of the States of Amazonas and Para, and took a short canoe trip to look for primates. It didn’t take long to see some Black Howlers and we heard Hoffmann’s Titis calling from several hundred metres into the forest, directly across from the howlers.
But we weren’t dressed for a walk! So we shot back to the boat, put on our boots, and were hiking into the forest thirty minutes later in hot titi pursuit. After a twenty minute slow walk up a steep trail we heard them calling again, only 50 metres away. But despite intensive searching we couldn’t see them and returned to the boat for a long day’s sailing.
We saw several groups of Amazon Black Howlers and numerous Pink and Grey River Dolphins as we headed back along the Parauari river to collect Micah at Novo Jerusalem.
A heavy rain storm put a stop to our planed evening bat catching session. When the weather cleared after dinner, we headed out on the canoes for a short spotlighting trip. Our boat had some of the best views yet of a Red-nosed Tree Rat, while Fiona’s boat found one of the Oecomys concolor type rats, which couldn’t be ID’d to species level without capture.
I discovered how much Night Wasp stings hurt.
Friday 23 June
Near the Rio Maues-Mirim
We woke on a small tributary of the Rio Maues-Mirim. After breakfast we met up with a villager who led us on a short hike to look for the Santarem Marmosets behind his village. This was a primate that had not originally been on our itinerary: our early successes had given us time to look for it.
It did not take long for Ignacio to spot three animals very high up a tree. And we had distant but prolonged views of these lovely little monkeys, which were a lifer for just about everyone including Fiona and Micah.
Junior was even more impressed: we were the first group ever to see four species of marmosets on one of his trips.
We still wanted to find Hoffmann’s Titis though, and they were also in the area. Fifteen minutes into a short hike on the other side of the river we heard them calling quite close. But after boating and hiking some more we were no closer. By 9 a.m. the forest was quiet again. Titis in the Amazon seem to stop calling very early and I suspect you need to be on the river before sunrise to have a good chance of finding one. We did see more Black Howlers along the river.
In the afternoon, after sailing three hours north along the Parana Uraraia to Macuari just south of the Amazon proper, we took the canoes out in search of the Hoffmann’s Zogue Zogs.
A local fisherman was alarmed when we stopped him, thinking we were from the fisheries office. But once he relaxed he claimed the titis were common near his house: he heard them most mornings.
We vowed to return at dawn. Cruising around the channels and river that afternoon we saw our first Brown-tufted Capuchins of the trip and more Bare-eared Squirrel Monkeys.
The bat guys set up seven nets near a creek and, as Fiona predicted for this area, the batting was good. They caught more Dark, Greater and Flat-nosed Fruit-eating Bats, more carollia species and some new ones too.
Our first Lesser Spear-nosed Bats, Phyllostomus elongatus of the trip: a species I had seen only once before, in Guyana.
And I was very pleased also to see my first White-throated Round-eared Bat, Lophostoma silvicola: a really cool looking bat.
They also caught a couple of attractive Inca Broad-nosed Bats, Platyrrhinus incarum, a fairly recent split from Heller’s Broad-nosed Bat. Two very rare Brown Tent-making Bats, Uroderma magnirostrum, were an exciting capture.
Later in the evening Marcelo and Jose Gabriel returned to the boat with my first Little Yellow- shouldered Bat, Sturnira lilium.
As well as a Common Tent-making Bat, Uroderma bilobatum.
These latter two species were once thought to occur in Central America but have now been split (and here is a paper on the uroderma split).
A spotlight from the canoes that night was arguably the best of the trip. My heat scope – or Cheat Scope as Fiona christened it – came into its own. Our canoe quickly found two Prehensile-tailed (Brazilian) Porcupines, fabulous animals which gave great views, followed by a Western Woolly Opossum in a cecropia tree
We also saw several Giant Tree Rats.
All of the animals posed well for photos. The other canoe – without a cheat scope – missed the porcupines but we – or our scope – found one for them on the way back to the boat.
Saturday 24 June
Along the Parana do Ramos
We stayed overnight in the same area and were on the canoes not long after 5 a.m. and well before sunrise to give the elusive Hoffmann’s Titis one last try. We picked up our fisherman friend and soon heard the first of several groups of titis calling near his house. But they remained elusive.
Some of us finally got a glimpse of an animal or two running over a branch across the narrow creek we were paddling along. And others, including me, saw an animal again hiding in a palm tree. I got a two second look at its face peeping through the leaves. The monkey hunkered down in the palm and no amount of call playback or squeaking would encourage it to emerge. Unfortunately we didn’t have a chainsaw on the boat…
We saw more Large-Headed Capuchins and Squirrel Monkeys in the flooded forest and along the river bank.
Back on the boat Jose Gabriel and Marcelo proudly displayed the rat that Jose had caught – by hand – near the bat nets in the night. Jose had spotted the animal entering a hollow log, stuck a trap in after the animal and – from the other end of the log – “encouraged” the rat to enter the trap. Another classic Jose Gabriel capture.
The animal was large, cute and extremely placid. Fiona knew it was a proechimys species but wasn’t sure which one. She later discovered, long after we had released it, that it was an exciting find. No proechimys known from the area matched this animal, and the species it most closely resembled, Proechimys brevicauda, had not been recorded within hundreds of miles. The case files remain open on what this species was ….. but if someone recaptures one please name it after me. OK, after Fiona..
After sailing all day along the Parana do Ramos we reached the small town of Itapeuacu near the confluence with the Amazon itself. Last year’s trip had caught a Spectral Bat here and we were keen to try as well.
Some took a canoe around the neighbourhood while some of us visited the town, the highlight of which was cell phone reception and a Common Woolly Monkey tied to a tree.
A spotlighting trip that evening produced some fabulous views of Amazon Bamboo Rats.
Ian somehow got a glimpse of a very small rodent high in a cecropia tree which I eventually relocated with the thermal imager.
On the basis of range, and my photos, Fiona confirmed it as a White-footed Climbing Mouse, Rhipidomys leucodactylus.
Batting produced a Greater Fishing Bat, lot of carollia bats and one new bat, the lovely little Silver Fruit-eating Bat, Artibeus glaucus, a lifer for just about everyone.
But the bat guys had not restricted themselves to chiroptera. In true Jose Gabriel fashion, he had also grabbed a Grey Four-eyed Opossum and only gotten bitten a little bit.
The animal put on an impressive display of swimming when we released it on the river bank perhaps anxious to get away after we’d ogled its forked penis.
While Marcelo, also in on the mammal grabbing action, caught a beautiful Little Rufous Mouse Opossum that was running along a net.
A lovely thing that posed obligingly for photos when we released it.
Sunday 25 June
North of the Amazon
Chucking out time at a local night club at 4 a.m. woke some of us up while we had stopped in Itacoatiara, on the north side of the Amazon, to refuel.
A short canoe trip after breakfast eventually produced our first Guianan Red Howlers of the trip, along a channel that is usually good for them on the north side of the Amazon.
We also spotted several groups of Brown-tufted Capuchin (Sapajus apella) and Common Squirrel Monkeys.
We spent the rest of the day sailing, snoozing, eating and getting mammal tattoos, using some sort of local vegetable ink, courtesy of the artistic talents of Fiona and Micah.
Monday 26 June
Southwest of Manaus
We were on the canoes at dawn, just south of the Solimoes, some 30km southwest of Manaus. We headed into some flooded forest to look for both Gray’s Bald-faced Saki Monkeys and Chestnut-bellied Titis. We heard the latter calling at sunrise but began the morning searching for the sakis, in a bug-ridden stretch of water that was the canoeing equivalent of an off-road trip. As we pushed through branches and vegetation, both canoes filled rapidly with bugs, dirt and the flapping hands of mammal watchers trying to wave away the insects.
We saw a few Bare-eared Squirrel Monkeys and then the talented Emmerson, yet again, spotted what we were looking for. We followed his lead and chased a small group of Gray’s Bald-faced Sakis through the forest, eventually getting good views of an animal or two. The bugs and dirt were worth it.
Back on the main channel we looked for titis but couldn’t find any. It was probably, once again, too late in the day for them to call.
The tireless Jose Gabriel and Marcelo had starting batting at 3 a.m. as soon as we had stopped sailing but didn’t catch anything new: their haul comprised more Seba’s and Silky Short-tailed Bats and some Lesser Spear-nosed Bats.
Just before lunch we stopped at the Wedding of the Waters, where the Rios Solimoes and Negro meet. The meeting of the brown water from the Solimoes and black water from the Negro is as dramatically delineated as the temperature difference between the two streams – an instant drop of about 4C which we experienced at first hand swimming to and fro across the divide.
We spent the evening at an Indian community called Tupe on the north bank of the Rio Negro near Manaus. The forest here is a tourist attraction for visitors to Manaus, who come for a cultural day out. But of course we were there for the bats. Culture, smulture.
The batting began quite promisingly with our first Niceforo’s Bat, Trinycteris nicefori, a lifer for me.
We also caught our second Striped Hairy-nosed Bat of the trip: such beautiful animals.
Marcelo, in a different location, caught a Brock’s Little Yellow-eared Bat, Vampyressa brocki, a species I had seen only once before.
We took a walk along one of the Tupe forest trails after dark in the vague hope of seeing one of the dwarf porcupines that were occasionally seen in the area.
Amazingly I found one with the thermal scope after 15 minutes searching, though it took a long time to actually find it in a spotlight: the animal was clearly avoiding the beam by moving higher and deeper into the foliage. But most of us got views of a Black-tailed Hairy Dwarf Porcupine.
Twenty minutes later we saw another climbing mouse, this one, on the other side of the Rio Negro, a Splendid Climbing Mouse, much more richly coloured than the White-footed Climbing Mouse we had seen a few days earlier.
From the canoe we saw only a Red-nosed Tree Rat, though a house cat gave a moment or two of excitement.
Tuesday 27 June
Northwest of Manaus
Our last day on the boat. After our incredible run of primate species we decided to try to see Black Uakaris (Cacajao melanocephalus) in an area – just a few hours from Manaus – where Junior had seen them before. This was a species we all dearly wanted to see, and one I had planned to go look for after we got off the boat.
Incredibly – or perhaps not so incredible given our success so far – we saw a group of uakaris some five minutes after we got in the canoes. They were far away, but most of us got views of several animals high in the canopy and moving away from us. We couldn’t find them again in the flooded forest, though some people – not me – saw a Rio Negro Brush-tailed Rat out on a branch.
After giving up on the uakaris we took the Dorinha along a narrow channel past an abandoned hotel where the monkeys were used to being fed.
We got some great looks at both Humboldt’s Squirrel Monkey and White-fronted Capuchins (Cebus albifrons), which a few people were able to feed bananas to from the canoes.
We also saw a lone Venezuelan Red Howler.
Just before lunch we arrived at a quiet spot just off the river where the locals feed Pink River Dolphins, and the tourists pay to get in the water with them. It might sound touristy but it really didn’t feel that way: the animals are wild and a group of five or so seemed quite happy to come in for a feed of fish while we stood quietly in the water with them.
An experience I will never forget: those dolphins are seriously large and weird up close. But then they probably thought the same of me.
Before heading to Manaus we thought we would try once more to see the Black Uakaris and, yet again, we had a couple of animals within five minutes of getting in the canoes. These were much closer than the group in the morning and we had spectacular views of these fantastic primates, their golden backs lit up in the afternoon sun. Though an annoying branch got in the way of the perfect photo.
What a way to end the trip!
We sailed back to Manaus and had a farewell party, complete with a birthday cake for Hari, before turning in early for our last night on the river (though several of us spent a day or more looking for mammals after we left the boat).
This trip was an absolute highlight of my mammal watching adventures and I feel incredibly lucky to have been a part of it. The boat, the crew, the company and the weather couldn’t have been better, and nor could the landscapes we sailed through for 800 miles or so. We saw lot but these two maps give a very rough idea of our route, and also an idea of the tiny fraction of the Amazon we saw.
Most importantly, though, the mammal watching was far, far better than I expected. Before arriving in Brazil I thought we might see 50 or so species, and that perhaps half of them would be new for me. In the end we racked up 79 species in two weeks – really quite extraordinary for the Amazon – and about 50 were new or me. Though we were doubtless lucky, most of our success was due to skill.
The expertise of Fiona, Micah and Junior in planning the trip ensured we were in the right spots to find our targets, and were able to identify just about all we saw. Jose Gabriel and Marcelo worked extremely hard for two weeks to catch industrial quantities of bats and managed to grab several small mammals in the process.
Plus, the combined experience, spotting skills, photographic talents and expertise of the passengers and crew, meant we had the best possible chances to find – and photograph – everything with fur in the forest. The heat scope helped a bit too. So thank you to everyone who was on the Dorinha for a magical two weeks.
Stuff We Missed
In short we missed very little. Of course there were lots of bats in particular we could have seen, and a number of species had been caught on previous trips that we missed, including Spectral Bats and White-winged Vampire Bats. But to make up for their absence we caught several species that no one had expected. The primate watching, really the main focus of the trip, was way beyond expectations: we saw 20 different monkey species in two weeks, several of which were rare and/or barely known and/or just plain hard to see. In fact we missed only one or two species whose range we came into.
Junior was pretty sure he had never seen so many primate species in a single trip and it is really hard to imagine anyone seeing more in a similar period of time. At least until Fiona’s next trip….
Little Rufous Mouse-Opossum Marmosa lepida
Gray Four-eyed Opossum Philander opossum
Southern Opossum Didelphis marsupialis
Western Woolly Opossum Caluromys lanatus
Southern Two-toed Sloth Choloepus didactylus
Pale-throated Three-toed Sloth Bradypus tridactylus
Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth Bradypus variegatus
Guianan Squirrel Sciurus aestuans
Yellow-throated Squirrel Sciurus gilvigularis
Neotropical Pygmy Squirrel Sciurillus pusillus
Bicolored Arboreal Rice Rat Oecomys bicolor
White-footed Climbing Mouse Rhipidomys leucodactylus
Splendid Climbing Mouse Rhipidomys nitela
House Rat (Black Rat) Rattus rattus
Prehensile-tailed (Brazilian) Porcupine Coendou prehensilis
Black-tailed Hairy Dwarf Porcupine Coendou melanurus
Red-rumped Agouti Dasyprocta leporina
Rio Negro Brush-tailed Rat Isothrix negrensis
Spiny rat species Proechimys cf. brevicauda
Common Spiny Tree Rat Mesomys hispidus
Amazon Bamboo Rat Dactylomys dactylinus
Giant Tree Rat Toromys grandis
Red-nosed Tree Rat Makalata didelphoides
Kinkajou Potos flavus
Proboscis Bat Rhynchonycteris naso
Frosted White-lined Bat Saccopteryx canescens
Amazonian White-lined Bat Saccopteryx gymnura
Lesser White-lined Bat Saccopteryx leptura
Pallid-winged Dog-like Bat Peropteryx pallidoptera
Greater Dog-like Bat Peropteryx kappleri
Northern Ghost Bat Diclidurus albus
Lesser Fishing Bat Noctilio albiventris
Greater Fishing Bat Noctilio leporinus
Niceforo’s Bat Trinycteris nicefori
White-throated Round-eared Bat Lophostoma silvicola
Striped Hairy-nosed Bat Mimon crenulatum
Lesser Spear-nosed Bat Phyllostomus elongatus
Guianan Spear-nosed Bat Phyllostomus latifolius
Pale-faced Bat Phylloderma stenops
Common Long-tongued Bat Glossophaga soricina
Tailed Tailless Bat Anoura caudifera
Silky Short-tailed Bat Carollia brevicauda
Ben Keith’s Short-tailed Bat Carollia benkeithi
Seba’s Short-tailed Bat Carollia perspicillata
Fischer’s Little Fruit Bat Rhinophylla fischerae
Dwarf Little Fruit Bat Rhinophylla pumilio
Little Yellow-shouldered Bat Sturnira lilium
Common Tent-making Bat Uroderma bilobatum
Brown Tent-making Bat Uroderma magnirostrum
Inca Broad-nosed Bat Platyrrhinus incarum
Brock’s Yellow-eared Bat Vampyressa brocki
Northern Little Yellow-eared Bat Vampyressa thyone
Silver Fruit-eating Bat Artibeus glaucus
Great Fruit-eating Bat Artibeus lituratus
Dark Fruit-eating Bat Artibeus obscurus
Flat-faced Fruit-eating Bat Artibeus planirostris
Common Vampire Bat Desmodus rotundus
Pied Bare-faced Tamarin Saguinus bicolor
Gold-and-white Marmoset Callithrix chrysoleuca
Santarem Marmoset Callithrix humeralifera
Maues Marmoset Callithrix mauesi
Satere Marmoset Callithrix saterei
Common Squirrel Monkey Saimiri sciureus
Bare-eared Squirrel Monkey Saimiri ustus
Humboldt’s White-fronted Capuchin Cebus albifrons
Spix’s White-fronted Capuchin Cebus unicolor
Brown Tufted Capuchin Sapajus apella
Large-headed Capuchin Sapajus macrocephalous
Baptista Lake Titi Plecturocebus baptista
Ashy-grey Titi Plecturocebus cinerascens
Hoffmanns’ Titi Plecturocebus hoffmannsi
Gray’s Bald-faced Monk Saki Pithecia irrorata
Golden-faced Saki Pithecia chrysocephala
Black Uakari Cacajao melanocephalus
Guianan Red Howler Monkey Alouatta macconnelli
Venezuelan Red Howler Monkey Alouatta seniculus
Amazon Black Howler Monkey Alouatta nigerrima
Amazon River Dolphin (Boto) Inia geoffrensis
Tucuxi Sotalia fluviatilis