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MANU NATIONAL PARK, PERU

14th – 21st September 2014

Manu National Park in Peru has to be high on any wildlife enthusiasts “must visit” lists with over 1 million acres of primary untouched rainforest. With over 1000 species of birds (this is 10% of the total worlds species), over 4000 species of Butterflies, 15 species of Monkey and a stunning array of other fauna and flora which makes this National Park is a very special place indeed. As a wildlife photographer it really doesn’t get much better than this.

Manu National Park is only visited by around 1000 tourists per year and is untouched by the modern world which is getting harder and harder to find in this day and age, it still has native tribes living in the jungle which in its self is amazing.

We arrived in Peru not really sure how we were going to get to the National Park, I had googled a few places and it really looked like it was out of our reach with prices around $2000 per person for a 7 day trip.

While in our hostel in Lima I stumbled upon Manu Adventures which were more in our price range, I emailed them to find out what tours they had coming up the week we were in Cusco. The booking agent soon got back to me and they had an 8 day / 7 night tour into the reserve zone of the park which left the day after we got to Cusco, Perfect!

We arrived in Cusco at 4pm exhausted after a 23 hour bus ride from Lima, we headed straight to the Manu Adventures booking office to finalise payment for the tour. At 7pm we had a briefing at the office where we meet our very friendly and helpful guide, Nefi, our cook Sabina and also the rest of the group who we would be spending the next 8 days with, Alan and Sophie, father and daughter from England and Jaap a young doctor from Holland. We finished up there and headed back to our hotel for some much needed sleep before our big adventure into Manu the next day.

DAY 1 – The following morning the mini van picked us up at 8am. We were very fortunate to be with a great bunch of people, which always makes a big difference on a long trip. The first leg of our adventure was a long 8 hour drive from Cusco over the Andes Mountains and down into Manu National Park. The majority of the drive was a crazy, narrow, windy metal road. There were other hazards along the way such as the local shepherds herding their Sheep, Goats, Pigs and Alpacas in the middle of the road on blind corners, lucky we had a very good driver.

Manu National Park6467

ALPACA JAM

We climbed to 4160m before we started to descend down from the alpine tundra into the park through the beautiful cloud forest. I got fleeting views of some great birds from the van including a gorgeous Grey-breasted Toucanet. After a very long day of driving these windy and narrow roads we finally reached the valley floor, our guide Nefy spotted a small group of Highland Motmots which were stunning. A little closer to our first lodge the guides stopped to show us a large group of male Andean Cock of the Rock’s dancing around on their Lek, they were spectacular and a real highlight of the day. We reached camp in Lan Pedro (Orquideas Lodge) and had a nice early night ready for a big day of wildlife spotting the next day.

NEW BIRDS SEEN – Cock of the Rock, Grey-breasted Toucanet, Andean Flicker, American Kestrel, Green Jay, Russet Backed Oropendola, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Great Thrush and Mountain Caracara (Total 10)

Cock of the Rock

ANDEAN COCK OF THE ROCK

DAY 2 – We got up at 5am to go and see the male Cock of the Rocks displaying again, they are such a stunning bird. After visiting the Lek we walked slowly back to the lodge seeing a few mixed flocks but nothing much to note. After breakfast we packed up and headed towards the boat ramp at Atalaya, along the way we visited a local bread maker, a coco plantation and the guides showed me a Greater Potoo while the rest of the group went rafting.

Greater Potoo

GREAT POTOO

We reached the end of the road at Atalaya, while waiting for everyone to unpack the car and load the boat I wondered off and found Blue-grey Tanager and a tree full of Russet-backed Oropendula and Yellow-rumped Cacique building nests, there nests really are works of art. We meet our boat driver Milton and deck hand Abelino, packed the boat then after a 30 minute boat ride down river we reached our home for the night at Ericka Lodge.

The afternoon was spent relaxing and doing our first zip-line in the rainforest, we didn’t see too many birds except a pair of really beautiful Spix’s Guan and a small White Caiman in a pond in the rainforest. On the way back to camp our guide found a couple of amazing and creepy looking Scorpion Spiders.

NEW BIRDS SEEN – Plumbous Kite, Blue-grey Tanager, Purple Honeycreeper, Great Potoo, Tropical Kingbird, Smooth-billed Ani, Speckled-faced Parrot, Black-fronted Nunbird, Orange-eared Tanager, Fasciated Tiger Heron, Grey-necked Wood Rail, Neotropic Cormorant, Spix’s Guan, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Snowy Egret, Spectacled Redstart, Black Caracara and White-winged Swallow (Total 28)

NEW MAMMALS – Brown Titti Monkey

DAY 3 – We had our alarms set for 5am to go and see a Parrot clay lick but mother nature had other ideas, it was pouring down with rain so I reset my alarm for 6 am to have a wonder around the lodge myself to see what I could find. I was really lucky and saw a Chestnut-eared Aracari and even some fresh Tapir tracks. We set off at 9am down the river, it was a 7 hour boat ride from here to our next lodge at Boca Manu Village which is the gateway to the National Park reserve zone. This boat trip was filled with lots of cool new birds including an amazing King Vulture feeding on a dead Caiman, very exciting because I really wanted to see this fascinating Vulture I was here.

King Vulture

KING VULTURE

We reached Boca Manu around 5pm making it a very long day on the water so to hear they had cold beer at a store near our lodge was a welcome surprise, even better was they only cost $3.25 for a 1.1L.

NEW BIRDS SEEN – Snowy Egret, Anhinga, Great Egret, Capped Heron, Little-blue Heron, Lineated Woodpecker, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, King Vulture, Road-side Hawk, Great-black Hawk, Plumbous Kite, Purplish Jay, Violaceous Jay, Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Great Kiskadee, Green Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, White-banded Swallow, White-winged Swallow, Pied Lapwing, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Bluish-fronted Jacamar, Silver-beaked Tanager, Giant Cowbird, Black Caracara, Red-capped Cardinal & Solitary Eagle (Total 55)

MAMMALS – Capibara

DAY 4 – A nice early 5am start to get into the park early for our first chance at seeing a Jaguar on the river banks, sadly Boca Manu river was cloaked with thick fog so spotting anything was very difficult. We decided to pull up to a Parrot clay lick and watch the amazonian parrots come in while waiting for the fog to lift, it was amazing to see five species of brightly coloured parrots in one place. After checking in at the entry station we carried on down river toward our final destination, Manu Lodge. The change as you entered into the reserve zone was really noticeable, Turtles, Parrots, Geese, Macaws, Skimmers, Terns, Nightjars and this amazing looking Horned Screener all came out to greet us, sadly no Jaguar.

Horned Screamer2

HORNED SCREAMER

So after a 23 hour bus to Cusco, a 10 hour mini bus to the boat ramp and around 12 hours on the boat we made it to Manu Lodge in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, we unpacked the boat and walked the 15 minute track through the rainforest to the lodge. The lodge was so beautiful, located amongst thick jungle right on Juarez Lake and our home base for the next 2 nights. That afternoon while everyone else was having a ci’esta I went out to explore around the lake, I had a great time meeting up with a massive family group of Squirrel Monkeys and Brown Capuchin Monkeys. A few new birds including Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, Blue-crowned Motmot the very iconic amazonian bird the Hoatzin. I  was even lucky enough to photograph my number one target I had wanted to see since I was a kid, this absolutely stunning Channel-billed Toucan.

Channel-billed Toucan

CHANNEL-BILLED TOUCAN

That afternoon we jumped into a little boat and the guides paddled us around Juarez Lake, it was amazingly peaceful and there was a lot of life around but the highlights were the large amounts of Black & White Cayman and a small group of Red-howler Monkeys.

Boat Cruze

ME (LAURIE ROSS)

NEW BIRDS SEEN – Blue-headed Parrot, Yellow-crowned Parrot, Rock Parakeet, Colbalt-winged Parrot, Orange-checked Parrot, Horned Screamer, Orinoco Goose, Sand-colored Nightjar, Cocoi Heron, Muscovy Duck, Vermillion Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonia, Black Skimmer, Yellow-billed Tern, Large-billed Tern, Scarlet Macaw, Red-and-green Macaw, Brown-cheasted Martin, Channel-billed Toucan, Blue-crowned Motmot, Hoatzin, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, Wattled Jakana, Limpkin, Blue-throated Pipin Guan, Black-capped Donacobius, Rusdescient Tiger Heron, Lesser Nightthawk, Pauraque and Osprey. (Total 86)

MAMMALS & REPTILES – Squirrel Monkey, Brown Capuchin Monkey & Red Howler Monkey, Black Caiman & White Caiman.

DAY 5 – Another early morning, up at 4.40am to eat breakfast by candlelight serenaded by the eire sound of the resident Red Howler Monkeys to then head further up river to Salvador Lake. This would be our best chance to see the endangered Giant Otters, our guide believed we had a 95% chance to see them which was encouraging. It was a glorious clear morning and I couldn’t think of anywhere else I would rather be. Along the way we saw one of the worlds largest rodent the Capibara, I also got some great photos of White and Black Caiman.

Capibara1

CAPIBARA

After the 2 hour boat ride up the river we arrived at the entry to Salvador Lake around 8.15am, from here we had to walk about 15 minutes into the jungle to the lake. We loaded onto a really cool catamaran which the National Park Service provides for visitors to the lake. Off we paddled, while looking for Giant Otters we found Ringed Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Anhinga, Grey-fronted Woodrail, Hoatzin, Giant Cowbird and Red-capped Cardinal. After around an hour on the lake we caught up with the resident family of Giant Otters who where busily fishing for breakfast, it was amazing to see how many fish they were catching. We followed the group for around an hour and a half keeping a good distance, they were a real challenge to photograph but I think I managed to get a couple of good shots.

Giant Otter2

GIANT OTTER

On the paddle back to the dock our driver heard some monkeys on the other side of the lake so we went over to investigate, we were amazed to find a group of beautiful Saddle-backed Tamarin’s. They came down from the tops of the trees to greet us at eye level, they were so adorable and even posed for a couple of photos for me.

Saddle-backed Tamarin6040

SADDLE-BACKED TAMARIN

On the boat ride back to the lodge we found 3 Black Spider Monkeys coming down to a clay lick on the river which was really cool, to have Spider Monkeys right out in the open and staying in one place was a great opportunity to get some photos.

Black Spider Monkey6051

BLACK-SPIDER MONKEY

We arrived back to the lodge around 2.30pm for a late lunch, our lovely cook had put on a banquet for us which was great as we were all exhausted! Later in the afternoon we walked one of the tracks around Manu lodge, we saw 7 species of Monkey within 45 minutes including a new species for the trip the White-fronted Capuchin.

White-fronted Capuchin Monkey

WHITE-FRONTED CAPUCHIN

A massive day of Monkeys!

NEW BIRDS SEEN – Variable Hawk, Squirrel Cuckoo, Masked Crimson Tanager & Screaming Piha (Total 90)

MAMMALS – Giant Otter, White-fronted Capuchin Monkey, Black Spider Monkey & Saddleback Tamarid

DAY 6 – We continued the trend of getting up early with a 5.15am start, this time we took the little boat out onto the lake. Again it was a stunning morning with a lot of life around. I got a heap of awesome photos including, Hoatzen, White Caimen, Lumpkin, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, Ahninga, Blue-gray Tanager, White-winged Swallow, Black-capped Donacobius, Lineated Woodpecker, Blue-crowned Trogon and a group of Red Howler Monkeys with a baby.

HoatzinHOATZEN

Around 8 am we got back to the lodge for breakfast, after breakfast I went off on my own to do one of the trails around the lake. I soon spotted Smooth-billed Ani, Thick-billed Euphonia and a cool Palm Tanager, further down the trail I found a lone Rufous Motmot and a pair of Black-fronted Nunbirds. The highlight of the morning and maybe the whole trip was finding a troop of Saddlebacked Tamarids and one of my all time favourite mammals ever the rare Emperor Tamarin! It was an amazing morning.

Emperor Tamarin

EMPEROR TAMARIN

Sadly this was our final day at Manu Lodge, we packed up around 1.30pm and headed back to the boat this time down river to Boca Manu where cold beer was waiting for us. Along the way we didn’t see too much except a very cool Razor-backed Currasow and a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites at the check out point of the National Park.

We got back to Boca Manu at around 6pm, we dropped off our bags and headed straight to the store to have a few delicious cold beers. They seemed to taste extra delicious when we hadn’t had anything cold to drink for the last 3 days, the simple things in life!

NEW BIRDS SEEN – Rufous Motmot, Palm Tanager, Scale-breasted Woodpecker, Greater Ani, Green Ibis, Black-collared Hawk, Razor-billed Curasow, Swallow-tailed Kite, Vermilion Flycatcher, Sun Grebe & Sun Bittern (101)

MAMMALS – Emperor Tamarin

DAY 7 – This is the worst day of the whole trip, we had to get up at 5.30am to eat breakfast and then it’s a 7 + hour journey up river against the current to Erica Lodge. Along the way we spotted a few new birds, Crested Caracara, White-colled Swift and Spectacled Chachalaca.

We arrived back at Erica lodge at 1.30pm so had plenty of free time to relax after a full on week in Manu. Mid afternoon I wondered off by myself down one of the small rivers near the lodge, I managed some great photos of Long-tailed Tyrant, Amazon Kingfisher, Russet-backed Oropendola, and Brown-chested Martin.

Long-tailed Tyrant

LONG-TAILED TYRANT

NEW BIRDS SEEN – White-collared Swift, Crested Caracara, Striated Heron, Long-tailed Tyrant, Collared Plover, Spotted Sandpiper, Pale-legged Hornero & Speckled Chachalaca (Total 109)

MAMMALS – Tayra

DAY 8 – We were allowed a bit of a sleep in which Lauren was very happy about. I was up early for a final jungle walk and got caught out in a huge rain storm, I had to stuff my massive camera under my jacket and run the 800m back to the lodge! It would have been hilarious to watch. It was raining cats and dogs as we headed up river, all of our gear got wet I even had to wrap my camera and lens in my poncho to keep it dry. We unloading the boat at Atalaya and then began the long drive back to Cusco for a nice hot shower and to dry everything out.

The drive back was very cold and wet, the only thing of interest we saw was a rare Andean Potoo that Nefi pointed out along the way.

NEW BIRDS SEEN – Andean Potoo, Andean Gull, Puna Ibis, Common Moorhen & Andean Goose (Total – 114)

Andean Potoo6520

ANDEAN POTOO

Well what an amazing trip into Manu National Park, it really is my definition of paradise. I would like to say a big thank you to Nefi our guide, Milton our boat driver, Sabina our cook and Abelino our deck hand they did an amazing job with everything. Also Manu Adventures for such a well organised trip, we were very well looked after and well fed.

I would highly recommend a trip into Manu with them, just make sure you spend the extra time and money to go into the reserve zone. You will not regret it.

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