It’s just over 14 years and I can still remember the sensation of climbing into the treetops. A narrow rope bridge ascending upwards, up and over the forest below, a gentle incline at first, getting gradually steeper until it is almost vertical and like climbing a ladder. Emerging onto a platform 42 m up is rather dizzying. Take a deep breath and look. Here is a view of the jungle few people may have. Right in the canopy layer surrounded by the tallest of trees, the boundless green now punctuated by open space and blue sky. It is the best treehouse you can imagine. Macaws fly past in the open air, colours rich and vibrant in the sunlight, above and through a sea of green. From here we watch, identify and record.
Head in the clouds and in the green of the canopy. A beautiful space it was hard to pull yourself away, not least because you faced the steep descent of the rope bridge…
Our time in the jungle included morning and afternoon observations from platforms around the reserve, including the Canopy Walkway. Surveys essentially recording mainly birds, but also mammals, amphibians, reptiles…
While Canopy Walkway may have been the most breath taking and dramatic platform, it was the tower at New Farm where the greatest variety of birds and mammals were recorded during our stay. The Farm was created as part of a project for agroforestry, and the platform sits in the middle of a square open space, surrounded by tall, dense jungle on three sides and the flowing, murky brown river on the fourth. Oropendulars nest in the trees, their woven nests hanging like decorations on a tree. Dusky titi monkeys move stealthily through the branches. Flycatchers, parakeets, vultures, tanagers, cardinals and a multitude more.
On one visit we see a wader. Not too many sightings of those during our stay, not that much wader habitat around… but here was a definite wader wandering around the open spaces of New Farm. Of course, at that point I had no camera with me… so I sketched and annotated what I saw. Not known for my artistic skills, but still I was able to identify it in the identification guide on my return to the lodge. An Upland Sandpiper. Only problem? Resident expert tells me they are not present at Taricaya, and who am I to challenge? But one thing I have learnt, no one knows everything and just because it has not been recorded before does not mean it is not there. So, I returned later in the day armed with my camera. Result! I find the bird, take some pictures and… certainly looks like an Upland Sandpiper! Showing my photos to the resident staff it looks like I may have recorded the first one for the reserve.
HOB, perhaps one of the quieter platforms, looking over a swamp in a denser part of the forest. Looking up the walkway to the canopy crosses the sky. But it is here I have my first encounter with a Hoatzin, an almost prehistoric looking bird and one with a prehistoric claim. It shares a unique characteristic with Archaeopterx (a prehistoric dinosaur that shared features of dinosaur and bird); claws at the end of its wings. The Hoatzin uses these to climb trees. They rarely fly with poorly developed muscles on its chest and unusually they are exclusively herbivores, predominantly eating leaves. The overly developed crop to aid digestion of this material takes up more space in the chest and is one reason why its flight muscles are so poorly developed. While primitive, the Hoatzin is not a modern Archaeopterx and simply developed claws due to its habit of living in trees over water and being poor fliers.
Quieter, yet still we see toucans, macaws, parrots, anis, nunbirds to name a few. And then there are lovely views of miridius morpho, an iconic butterfly of the Amazon. Cryptic brown until it opens its wings to reveal cobalt blue.
While these three platforms form the main sites for regular observations, there is another hide on the reserve where occasionally surveys take place. The Anaconda Colpa, a clay lick at the far end of the reserve. An hour and 20 minute walk through dense jungle on slippy, sticky, muddy trails. Saddleback tamarins hustle through the treetops, birds call and flit through the shadows of the trees. Trees creek and sway. A thunderous crash echoes nearby as a branch comes clattering down. A stark warning that it is not just wildlife that we need to be wary of while on the less trodden parts of the reserve. The clay lick is quiet for long periods and then there is a flurry of activity, jerking us awake from a kind of stupor.
First off, an agouti comes for a drink. The haunting calls of howler monkeys reaches through the tangle of branches and trees. It goes quiet again, and then rustling, crashing, scrunching. A peccary appears from the bushes, wanders around, checking the area out, sniffing and snuffling at the clay mud. It disappears and it is quiet again for about 10 minutes. Then more peccaries appear, rooting around, licking and eating the clay.
The morning progresses and a glance to the left reveals that the door frame and floor of the hide is moving. Wait, what? Moving? Why is the wood moving? Army ants. A swam of army ants is covering the floor, ladder and door. A swarming mass of movement, moving closer. Very soon they are all around us, coming out of cracks and joints of the wooden hide. Getting closer. It is time to go. Army ants move in huge densities, overwhelming their prey, biting and stinging, eating. If enough swarmed a human they could kill. Not something to hang around for. Definitely time to go. Problem is the rather wobbly ladder is swarming with ants. A little team work, a leap of faith from the last few rungs and we are back on the forest floor and away up the trail. A comfy branch and the only thing to do is wait it out. There is no other way of encouraging army ants out. Its not so bad sitting on a log, on a trail, in the middle of the Amazon jungle, a couple of birds (tanagers and treerunners) a pink-toed tarantular and an almost complete hummingbird nest, keeping us company. A few hours later and the ants have moved on and we return to the hide. The final few hours bring more birds, butterflies and a golden tegu (a large lizard).
As our stay at Taricaya progresses we move into the rainy season. It gets noticeably wetter. Thunderstorms unleash their wrath on tree and building. They are intense but brief. With the increased rainfall, the forest seems greener, brighter, louder. Frogs start to return to the creeks and pools to mate, their calls increasing in intensity and escalating the cacophony of the jungle. In the swamp below HOB a turtle swims through the swollen water and a log turns out to be a black caimen. Watching and waiting in its stillness.
Our final few observations at New Farm platform brings more birds to our extensive list, with a favourite being the onomatopoetic Greater Kiskadee.