Trip Start Jul 23, 2002
Trip End Jul 23, 2003

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Sunday, March 30, 2003

In the last week of camp we took a trip upriver into the reserve zone itself to visit a couple of the collpas there and to do some bird watching. We left a day later than expected due to problems with the booking of the tourist boat to pick us up (since our boat, the Capibara, would take something ridiculous like 2 days to make a trip that would take 3-5 hours in a good boat). So after a day of sitting around waiting and not doing anything we got organised again the next day and left (only about a day and 3 hours later than we expected). It´s amazing what a difference a good motor makes on a boat as we flew along and were a lot quieter than normal. We got a sunny day to make the journey which makes it a lot more pleasant. The further up river we went the less buildings there were, not that there is a lot along the river anyway, until we reached the reserve proper. Then there´s just the checkin building and a lodge near the second collpa we visited. Along the way we saw a lot of birdlife including herons and egrets, vultures, hawks, muscovy ducks, geese, kingfishers, toucans, parrots, macaws and more. Within 2 days we´d seen more than 40 different species of birds. We also saw a group of squirrel monkeys hanging in a tree over the river, and several groups of capybaras on the river bank.

We arrived at the first collpa with enough daylight left to set up camp for the night and start on dinner. There was a bit of trouble deciding where to place the tents because there was a large leaf cutter ant trail going right across the centre of the site, and several people ended up getting the ants visiting them in their beds that night. After dinner we headed down to the beach and went for a bit of a walk. Not long after leaving camp one of the guys almost stepped on a baby Fer-de-lance which made us a little more cautious about where we put our feet as a bite from that snake would be serious. A few of us just stopped and sat on the rocks after checking for snakes first (it was strange finding a beach with pebbles on it as we just don´t find them around our camp) and watched the moon rising over the forest. The moon was full and you got the reflection of that across the river and then had the bats and a few night hawks flying around you.

The next morning we were up about 5am, which for us is not that unusual, but the guide seemed to be used to normal tour groups who have just arrived in the country and need a lot more encouragement to get out of bed. We went across the river and sat on a fallen tree looking across to the Chuncho collpa. The collpa is basically just a steep river bank like a cliff, and you get lots of parrots and macaws coming in to eat the clay (when the weather is drier you get a lot more birds as they don´t seem to like the damp clay). No one is exactly sure why, although it may be used to neutralise toxins in the food.

As we sat watching the birds started to arrive, and a lot of them weren´t shy about announcing their presence. You got Scarlet, Red and Green, and Chestnut Macaws flying overhead, aswell as the flocks of parrots. They´d land in the tops of the trees and as the morning progressed a bit some of the more adventurous ones headed down closer to the actual lick itself. They were a bit hestitant about it and only a few actually ended up flying down to the vines hanging down over the collpa itself. Every now and then there would be a disturbance and they´d fly up in big groups with a lot of noise. After a couple of hours it became obvious that they weren´t actually going to use the lick that morning so we headed back to camp. Despite that we still had some fantastic views of the birds and we still had another Collpa to visit, Colorado collpa.

Another boat ride took us to the second collpa and took about 3 hours less than expected as the river level was high due to it being the wet season. We arrived at the camp site only to find that the area looked different due to the bank having been eroded by the high water, and the site needed some clearing so the tents could be pitched. A quick lunch and then I headed out for a walk along the beach. Once more it was a pebble beach but as you rounded the corner the pebbles continued along another side river that was joining onto the main one. The setting was stunning with the forest all around you, a pebble beach to walk on, little rapids that you could walk across with you wellies, another forest bounded river joining into the area, and the Andes visible further upstream.

A few of us then headed to the Tambopata Research Centre and went for a couple of hours walk through the forest there. This will sound stupid, but it was the first walk in the jungle for about a week and it was really nice to get in there after having spent most of the last week only around camp and not really in the forest proper. We had one of the guides with us and it was very different from normal because he didn´t want to take us through water that was over the Wellies, while that was not that ususual for us. On two occasions he went in search of a tree that went across the stream, found one, and the second time he put a couple of branches across for us to walk over. We saw a few mammals on the walk including an agouti at the lodge itself and I spotted two Red Howler Monkeys sitting on a branch in the canopy. With the binos you could get a clear view of them and they stayed there for a while staring back at us before disappearing into the canopy further. Back at camp there was time for another walk around the beach before watching the sunset over the river with the Andes in view. As we were sitting around camp a couple of people got views of a night monkey and a paca in the forest around us.

The next morning it was another early rising before going across the river for a horrible walk through thick mud, in which you literally lost your boots, to get to the viewing site. Noone was very impressed with the walk, but once the birds started arriving it didn´t matter anymore. This time the birds actually went down onto the collpa and you had a group of 20 or so parrots eating from the lick, as well as a couple of the macaws who ventured down there as well. There was also a group of guans which spent quite a while on the lick. We saw a lot of parrots, and the main macaw at this collpa were the Blue and Gold, with some Scarlets but nowhere near as many. We watched for a couple of hours and as the birds stopped coming down to the lick the guide went to get the boat.

After a bit of confusion four of us ended up staying there for another hour and although there wasn´t much more activity on the collpa itself there was plenty of activity in the trees around it. We were treated to multiple flybys by groups of Blue and Gold Macaws as they went past the lick and back into the trees, interspersed with the odd flyby by a Scarlet Macaw pair. They were amazing views of the birds scattered in the trees all around you and you just see the bright blues, reds and yellows standing out from the foliage. As we got back into the boat to head back to camp a group of Blue and Gold´s took off from the trees near us and then a group of Scarlets from the trees further down the collpa. It was definitely worth the trip to see them, and from what the staff were saying it was one of the best views they´ve had from 3 or so visits. You can take trips to stay at the lodge and view the collpa but we were told that they cost US$560 for 5 days and the people there ended up viewing the collpa from the other side of the river which is a long way away so they really wouldn´t have been able to see much clearly. So I´m quite happy with our cheaper and better viewing option.
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