Beautiful plummage

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September 2nd 2019
Published: September 3rd 2019
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We were up at 4.15am this morning so we could take the boat upstream to Tambopata National Park, where we went bird-watching. Tambopata is the local name for the Peruvian Amazon, the part we are in has the evocative name of Madre De Dios (Mother of God).

In the National Park, there are two clay licks, areas of high sodium clay where birds gather to ingest sodium to balance toxins they take in from unripe nuts. Peru is the only place this happens as in other rainforest areas the nuts have sufficient sodium from the soil. We saw lots of beautiful birds: scarlet macaws, blue and yellow macaws, severe macaws several kinds of parrots and parakeets including the blue-headed pionus which is very striking. The guide set up a telescope to give us a good view and we also had binoculars. The colours are magnificent, prompting many Monty Python references: beautiful plumage.

Between the two clay licks the guides served a very civilised breakfast. We almost expected Carson and the hunting party silver coffee pot!

We were back for lunch (we are being fed very well here!) and a break before our next adventure, a hike to the Oxbow Lake. An oxbow lake is a U-shaped lake that forms when a wide meander of a river is cut off, creating a free-standing body of water which tends to attract wild life (apparently it's what we call a Billabong in Australia.) We saw a whole different collection of birds including a jacamar, herons, cormorants, trumpeter birds and the very funny-looking hoatzin, which has head feathers styled like a mohawk. The lake is quite small and we circumnavigated it in a canoe. It was very quiet and peaceful with beautiful reflections of the surrounding trees. The tranquility is deceptive though. Our guide showed us flesh-eating piranhas, sharp-toothed tiger fish and an electric eel with a 600 volt charge fatal to humans.

We also saw some very interesting trees on our walk to the lake. The were"walking trees", so called because they put out new routes towards the sun and release old roots, gradually moving positions. Strangler ficus grows downwards from seeds planted by monkeys or birds excreting in the branches of another tree. The new ficus puts down multiple roots towards the ground, gradually strangling the host tree so an established strangler ficus has an empty space in the middle. We also saw a kapok tree, which grows the cotton that used to be used to stuff pillows. They are massive, with bark that resembles an elephant's hide and huge curtain-like roots. The trees in the Amazon are shallow-rooted because all the nutrients are on the surface. They can go on for 20 metres or more and some created fabulous natural steps in places. The trees are easily uprooted in wind Android the river is littered with their remnants, reminding us of the graveyard in 'The Lion King'. I have a new found v respect for river boat captains and navigators!


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