The rainforests of the Amazona are home to several hundred bird species. At some bio-hotspots sites in western Amazonia, including our lodges, the bird list even jumps to 600 plus species identified in an area as small as southern New Jersey! Despite the incredible avian diversity, most first-time visitors to the Amazon wonder why they aren't seeing as many birds as expected. A walk in the rainforest is often quiet except for the calls of a few birds, and other animals also seem to be in hiding.
Literally hundreds of bird species live in the rich rainforest habitats of south-eastern Peru. However, the irony of that avian abundance is that many of those bird species are naturally rare and/or just hard to see. Our canopy towers and trained guides help in seeing more birds but the places where we look for them also play important roles.
There's much more than one type of habitat in the Amazon rainforest. Different types of forest grow in flooded areas compared to upland, hilly situations, and bamboo thickets and other microhabitats provide homes for different suites of plants and animals. The high rainfall in the Amazon as well as in the Andes also result in a variety of wetland habitats, one of the most interesting being oxbow lakes.
I hear birds calling back and forth. Some chirp timidly, others caw obnoxiously, while occasionally I’ll hear a terrifying screech, only to figure out that was also a bird. Tree branches fall, monkeys bicker, insects buzz all at the same time. Its loud, but I’ll take it any day over the noises of a busy city.
Its really not that much quieter than Lima, especially in the morning, but its far more pleasant to listen to. Trying to distinguish who’s saying what is initially overwhelming, but when I listen closely, I realize how harmoniously the creatures calls come together. Its as if the all the plants species of the forest along with her animals are in collaboration, functioning exactly as they should be. If I concentrate and sit quietly, I can listen in on a conversation between two birds. On a walk today, I heard a rain shower five minutes before it arrived. The sound of the raindrops hitting the leaves became louder as the downpour approached giving me just enough time to find an umbrella tree to stand under while the worst of it passed.
I’ve always had a keen sense of smell, but try to suppress it in the city since the scents of food, diesel fuel, and urine do not appeal to me. I had almost forgotten that to truly experience an odor you must use more than your nose. It involves breathing through your mouth and using your sense of taste. You must then allow the odor to infiltrate your entire chest cavity and head until it brings back a memory or creates a new one. Locals from Tambopata can smell Howler Monkeys from two miles away. I’m not that good yet, but can appreciate the fresh air, jungle fruits and nuts, flowers, leaves, even dirt.
There’s another sense. I’m not talking about that creepy movie with that little kid who hangs out with dead people. Its the same full body sensation you get when you first fall in love, or in like with someone. When I hike in the forest, no matter how hot it is, or whether its raining and I’m soaking wet, my energy increases and I could hike for hours. Worries cross through my mind for no more than a minute before I’m distracted by a jumble of vines, trees and plants competing with each other for sunlight. They wrap around each other, always moving upward in a beautiful chaos until they explode through the canopy spreading their branches in every direction to celebrate their triumph. My worries are forgotten and I realize I’ve been studying the forest for what feels like hours, but maybe was only seconds. This sense is timeless and unquantifiable. Its the same as falling in love, only this time I’ve fallen in love with a place.
Gordon McGladdery is a musician and sound designer from Vancouver, Canada. Winner of the international Soundcloud/Vancouver Film School Full Scholarship Challenge, he is currently enrolled in the Sound Design for Visual Media program and is set to graduate in December. Academics aside, he’s still keeping busy as composer for the youtube channel Smarter Every Day and co-composer for the hit iOS game Shellrazer. He has released three albums as A Shell in the Pit and one with the Victoria rock band "Oh Snap!"
Can you find a company of parrots on your next tour of Tambopata?
I have heard this story told from rainforests throughout the world: Where there was once a small hiking trail to a distant community 4 hours away now lies a wide road with electrical poles, trees cleared along the side, and even asphalt. While the progress for the community can be immeasurable in access to medical care, increased standard of living, and ease of selling produce, the long-term damage that a road can cause to a rainforest’s animals has simply never been measured. Roads serve as a tangible representative of development and disturbance in the area. As more people live in an area and more products are created to sell, the more a need for a bigger, better, safer road there is.
As roads get used more, studies have shown the following not-so-great things tend to happen and can have a long lasting affect deep into the forest:
- Illegal hunting and illegal logging increase as access to forest increases, severely affecting the large mammal populations and deforestation rates.
- The fragmentation to the habitat can limit the forest from access by species that need large, undisturbed ranges like jaguars, large bird of prey, or monkeys.
- Roadkill incidences increase, affecting animal populations, range, and genetic diversity.
- Temperature of asphalt increases, likely affecting road kill rates, animal cross overs, and genetic diversity.
- Runoff pollution of chemicals from cars, tires increases.
- Trash pollution by people dumping/throwing trash increase.
- Noise pollution increases by loud engines increases, proven to be detrimental to bird populations.
- Invasive, weedy plant species are more likely to encroach.
In our situation, we’re hoping to measure the change in road (narrow to wide) as a change in animal populations surrounding the road, then, now, and when the asphalt comes. We’re surveying birds, butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals to see if we get different levels of diversity and different species closer to the road compared to further from the road. We’re in the middle of data collection for the widened road state, spending hours in the field each day and night catching, identifying, and measuring animals.
As roads leading up to Tambopata demonstrate, Peru is no stranger to road impacts. This study being done in Ecuador will hopefully help future policy and engineering decisions about how, and where, to build roads in or near such rainforests. With the IIRSA roads built across Peru and more being asphalted, the increased impact of humans is bound to be occurring. Let’s hope for responsible government decisions that will keep the roads benefitting the humans in need while minimizing the impact.
See more articles by biologist Phil Torres at wwwTheRevScience.com
Our guides spot and point at little side necked turtles (taricayas, Podocnemis unifilis) on the Tambopata River. Sometimes, lines of yellow butterflies flutter above their eyes, trying to lick them. It is an iconic image much like the macaw clay lick or the panoramic of the rain forest canopy.
Some of my favorite hikes take place late at night in Tambopata. The rainforest bursts with wildlife activity after things cool down from the scorching hot afternoon. Nonstop mating calls pierce the air from frogs and crickets. Night also happens to be the best time to see weird stuff...