Monday, 21 July 2014

Part 3. 1000 miles of river to Manaus

Despite having seen the first signs of the muddy Amazon out in the Atlantic the previous evening we didn't actually arrive at the river estuary proper until around 6.00am the following day. The ship dropped anchor while the necessary administration took place. A pilot was sent on board to accompany us for the whole trip up river as well as immigration officials who who spend several days on board checking and stamping everyone's passports.
Brazil Pilot station 2014-01-20
The thrill of having reached Brazil was immediate. It was a very dull but warm start to the day. The arrival of the vessel attracted interest from both birds like the Large Billed Tern

Large Billed Tern 2014-01-20

and mammals like these river Dolphins. With their pink bellies we were not sure if these were the endemic and rare Boto but in fact these are Tucuxi Dolphin.
Tucuxi River Dolphin 2014-01-20

A small flock of Yellow Headed Caracara flew overhead paying us little interest.
Yellow Headed Caracara juvenile 2014-01-20
This was a bit of what I had been anticipating . The sightings were my first encouragement.
After an hour or so we set off on the journey inland, the sides of the Amazon heavily forested.
Brazil 472014-01-20
I had been led to believe that the width of the river was huge, so wide you can't really see anything. This turned out not to be true. On average the river is a couple of miles wide and that's ALL the way to Manaus but sometimes the boat is very close to shore depending on the channel it sails in. That doesn't mean the river isn't huge of course, someone told me the Amazon carries as much water as all the rest of the worlds rivers put together. I'm not sure if it's true though !
Anyway, we sailed on all day and all night before arriving at our first stop, Santarem, a busy commercial port and city. The birding this far had once again disappointing, you could see distant Egrets on the shore, someone even spotted a pair of Scarlet Macaw, but by and large it was too far away, particularly for photography.
One of the features of cruising holidays is the organised tours they offer at every stop. With 18 stops to consider, they can add up to a substantial amount of money as they are not usually that cheap either. Up to this point we hadn't participated, preferring to do our own thing. In Brazil though, we decided to sign up for some of the organised ones as we hadn't a clue if it would be possible to hire guides and taxis, and besides we don't speak Portuguese.
There had been several trips to choose but for our Santarem stop we had opted to go Pirhana  fishing on the nearby Lake Maica, an inlet off the main Amazon river. As we pulled in to the dockside there was suddenly a huge amount of avian activity. We had already discovered that the lights on the ship attracted the occasional Leach's Petrel to hitch a ride on the Atlantic, but on the Amazon it was the moths and insects that were there in large numbers. This moth was the most spectacular of the trip.
Moth 2014-01-20
Of course where there are insects there is an easy meal, so immediately on docking we were invaded by several species, like lots of species in Brazil, new sightings to me.
Palm Tanager
Palm Tanager
Great Kiskadee on the ship's rail.
Great Kiskadee
but there was also activity in the water too. A Neotropic Cormorant fishing
Neotropic Cormorant
Black and Turkey Vultures overhead.
Turkey Vulture
This was more like it at last ! There was lots to see as we waited to dock and before long we were off the ship and heading to the nearby dockside to board of boat for the fishing trip. It seemed half the ship's passenger headed that way and all in all about 6 boat loads headed off for the backwaters.
Brazil 1042014-01-21
Some were bigger than others but all offered good views of the river banks as we headed to our fishing spot. Our crew spotted a Three Toed Sloth and we stopped for photographs
Three Toed Sloth 2014-01-21 (3)
There were other good opportunities too, Yellow Headed Caracara
Yellow Headed Caracara 2014-01-21
Savannah Hawk
Savannah Hawk 2014-01-21
Brown Chested Martin
Brown Chested Martin 2014-01-21
While we were moored for the fishing I remained on the look out for more photo opportunities but none were to be had due to the disturbance of the people on the boat. A few fish were caught, the reputation of being eaten alive if you fall in the river took a bit of a knock when I saw my first ever example.
Piranha 2014-01-21
It would probably give you a nasty suck !
Anyway, the advice of swapping from a nature walk to the fishing trip was a good one. Although I hadn't participated, the journey had been very interesting. Our first close up views of the living conditions for the river side dwellers most revealing.
Brazil 1432014-01-21
All the houses are built on stilts to avoid flooding of course, and unexpectedly the further upriver you travel the thinner the surrounding forest, much has been cleared for farming.
Another thing we experience too was the tropical downpour. The volume of rain that can suddenly fall, quickly followed by brilliant sunshine is something to behold.
Brazil 862014-01-21
For our afternoon's activity we wandered the streets of dockside Santarem rather aimlessly. There were a few photo opportunities, like the Black Vultures.
Black Vulture 2014-01-21
and the Blue Grey Tanager
Blue Grey Tanager 2014-01-21
but with little idea of where to go, we settled for a beer in a local bar. Soon it was time to get back on board but from the bow of the boat we were entertained to a quite unusual but spectacular sight... a Peregrine Falcon that thinks it's a Hobby, hawking for Dragonflies from the top of a dockside crane.
Peregrine Falcon 2014-01-21
Onwards we travelled and overnight we reached our next stop, the riverside village of Boca do Valeria. To reach the village we had to travel from the boat by tender, a new experience ! It was obviously one of the highlights of the locals year. As soon as we dropped anchor the villages were out  alongside us in their motorised canoes, hoping that as we got in to the tender they could get given money for allowing us to hold a baby Sloth. Soon the previously near deserted village became crowded with ships passengers.
Brazil 1772014-01-22
But while waiting for our turn to get off i had some great views of the Boto Dolphin. Unlike other species they don't tend to break the water for very long so capturing an image isn't easy.
These were as good as it got I'm afraid.
Amazon River Dolphin 2014-01-22
At least a head is visible though.
Amazon River Dolphin 2014-01-22
By the time we arrived in the village it was pretty packed. Our arrival had brought in locals from some distance it seemed. Canoe trips of an hour were available for $20 so I opted for one of those.
It did bring some decent views of Wattled Jacana
Wattled Jacana
Like so many water birds, in flight they look totally different.
Wattled Jacana
I think the Muscovy Duck are tame despite the fact they are free to wander.
Muscovy Duck 2014-01-22
Back in the village there were people everywhere, locals were offering photo opportunities with all sorts of captured wildlife. You can't blame them but I declined as I don't want to encourage the practice, others readily handed over the money.
Brazil 2182014-01-22
I heard some folk saying the whole place was false, no one actually lived there and dressed in those outfits. Of course that wasn't true about the fact that it was a show village, it was very much a living place but true, they don't dress up like that normally. today was show day.
To me this was probably the most authentic piece of Amazon Jungle we visited. You could wander inland for some distance, the forest getting thicker and darker. I wasn't going to find anything to photograph so I headed back to the village. As time passed many returned to the boat, I waited until the last tender to return. With hindsight that is when I should have taken the canoe trip when everyone else had been and the wildlife settled down again. Something to remember if it ever presents itself again.
Anyway, I did manage a couple of shots for the records, Yellow Rumped Cacique

Yellow Rumped Cacique 2014-01-22 (3)
and White Winged Swallow
White Winged Swallow 2014-01-22 (8)
A reasonable day by all means but tomorrow we arrive in Manaus. From there, the day after, I'm booked on the full day Amazon Adventure trip, at around £180 for the two of us it wasn't cheap but it sounded fantastic.Boat rides, canoe rides, a walk in the forest. Bring it on. I went to sleep that night dreaming of those Parrot and Macaw images that inspired us to book the trip !

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