In the post before last I alluded to a dark form in the trees above where our Amazon boat, El Delfin, had been temporarily moored during an afternoon thunderstorm. That dark form, as many of you guessed,turned out to be a sloth--a male three-toed sloth to be precise.
This was my first-ever look at a sloth in the wild. Their faces are haunting, reminding me of one of those monkey heads carved out of a coconut. And they move like sedated furry snakes from limb to limb through the trees. This guy was taking his time and seemed completely unconcerned about the gathering thunderstorm.
As the male sloth reached the outer limbs of this branch we got a clear view of the orange patches on his back. Such a cool creature...
As the rain slackened we boarded the skiffs for an evening excursion up a small tributary. Having the shoreline habitat closer than it was on the big river made the birding better and easier. Too bad the light was fading.
On the left hand shore, a feeding flock caught our attention and I called out an all-blue bird I saw swoop into the center of a tree. It was a plum-throated cotinga! This is a bright blue bird with a purple throat and a white eye. Cotingas are a tropical family of birds, somewhere between a thrush and a flycatcher. They can be hard to see because they are not very active. But once you spot them they may sit for a long while.
This bird did and I used my new green laser pointer to get everyone else on the bird, describing a large circle around the bird. I found the laser pointer to be utterly useful for jungle birding, when saying things like "It's in the top of that large green-leafed tree" just won't cut it.
I got a crummy shot of the cotinga in the low light. But at least you can see the blue plumage, dark throat, and white eye.
As we left the cotinga, one of our skiff's passengers screamed. A fish had lumped into the boat and was flopping around in the bottom. As one of the passengers reached down to pick it up to toss it back into the river, our guide said "Please be very careful of his teeth and spines!" Michael, an American tour packager and avid fisherman, picked up the fish. Dave, another outdoorsman touched the fish's mouth and promptly for a bad bit on his index finger. This was not a piranha, but it still packed some wicked teeth! Could it be the influence of all those hopped-up outdoor adventure shows where it's not enough to just LOOK at an animal, you've also got to HANDLE it? I'm not casting aspersions here, just wondering....
The offending fish was released to the dark water once more.
Soon it was too dark for birding so we turned our attention to spotlighting other wildlife, such as caimans. Our guide leaned out over the bow and snagged this juvenile caiman from the shallow water.
Caimans are lovely to look at. Little ones like this could not hurt you unless you invited them to bite you. In the days to come we'd see much larger caimans that actually licked their chops as we motored past in small dugouts.
One of the birds we got close-ish to was this ladder-tailed nightjar. We also saw (poorly) a greater potoo--one of my quest birds.
Soon enough the bugs were getting bad putting thoughts of bad tropical diseases into our tired heads, so we began motoring back to the big boat. It was pitch black at this point and the guide had to shine the flashlight ahead of us to try to see the best route through all the shallows and submerged logs. WHAM! We hit a mudbar and everyone grunted. I hit my forehead on the wooden seat in front of me and the passenger next to me cracked his seat's support. It was more of a scare than an actual accident--no one and no gear was lost overboard. Still, it made us proceed with caution.
Once back on board El Delfin we cleaned up, had a drink, and headed for dinner. After yet another delightful meal, we were told we'd be going on a little hike the next day. The ship's crew began passing out knee-high rubber boots. Our destination? A large inland lake with the very evocative name El Dorado. The Gold!
What sort of adventure would tomorrow hold?