May 30, 2012

Rainforest Wildlife - Hawks

Roadside Hawk
Hawks are birds with sharp claws and hooked beaks that help them catch and eat prey items such as rodents, lizards, and other birds. For this reason, along with kites, eagles, and owls, hawks are commonly known as “birds of prey” or “raptors”. In the rainforests of Tambopata, there are at least 40 species of birds that fall into this category, 10 of which are hawks. The Peruvian Amazon can play host to such an incredible diversity of raptors because its rainforests, rivers, and oxbow lakes harbor such a huge variety of prey items.

There are raptors that specialize on everything from snakes to large insects, other birds, and even monkeys. The hawk species of Tambopata tend to prey on small birds, rats and mice, frogs, and large insects. The rarely seen Tiny Hawk (Accipiter superciliosus) catches hummingbirds while little known forest raptors such as the White Hawk (Leucopternis albicollis) and White-browed Hawk (Leucopternis kuhli) are believed to mostly eat reptiles and amphibians.

The most commonly seen hawks in Tambopata are three species that occur at the edge of the forest and along rivers: These are the Gray-lined Hawk (Buteo nitidus), Great Black-Hawk (Buteogallus urubitinga), and the Roadside Hawk (Buteo magnirostris).
  • The Gray-lined Hawk is sometimes also called the “Gray Hawk” and is named after its mostly gray plumage. It hunts for birds and small mammals in open and semi-forested areas.
  • The Great Black-Hawk is named after its large, bulky size and mostly black plumage. This striking bird hunts for small animals (including parakeets at clay licks) along the shores of the Tambopata River and often perches on driftwood.
  • The Roadside Hawk is named after its tendency to perch on posts and telephone wires although in Tambopata, this hawk is frequently seen in riverside trees. This medium-sized raptor hunts for small birds, mice, lizards, insects, and even tarantulas along the edge of the Tambopata River.
A few interesting facts about hawks of the Tambopata rainforest:
Great Black Hawk
  • An Old-English name: The word “hawk” has its roots in an Old-English word that also means “to grasp” or “capture”.
  • High IQ: Hawks are believed to have a high degree of intelligence compared to other birds due to their innovative hunting abilities.
  • Different shapes for different hunting strategies: Some hawks have long wings while others have short wings and long tails. Most species have a slightly different shape that reflects their hunting strategies. For example, whereas species with long wings and a short tail search for prey while soaring high in the sky, hawks that hunt inside the forest have shorter wings and long tails that help them maneuver in thick vegetation.
  • Natural binocular vision: The eyesight of hawks and other raptors is much, much better than that of any person (see the video below or click here. Their eyes can have 5 times more photoreceptors than those of people and are shaped to actually magnify the central part of their visual field.

How to see hawks when taking an Amazon adventure tour:
  • Watch for them perched in riverside trees: Many species of hawks in Tambopata perch in trees at the edge of the river. When traveling by boat, keep an eye out for large birds in riverside trees. Some of them may turn out to be a hawk that is watching and waiting for prey.
  • Look for soaring birds: Although most birds up in the sky are going to be vultures, some could end up being hawks that are soaring over the forest in their search for prey.

To see hawks and other raptor species in the Amazon, take a jungle adventure tour with Rainforest Expeditions.

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May 26, 2012

Impact of Roads in the Amazon Jungle

Walking 2 hours on a dusty road with trees felled to the side and the sun blazing overhead is not your typical day in the rainforest. Unfortunately, it is for us who are studying the effects of this road that serves as a stark contrast and constant reminder of the influence humans can have in a once pristine habitat in the Yachana Reserve, Ecuador. Today, it’s butterflies we’re surveying, setting up baited traps at various distances from the road to see what species are found close, and what species are found far from the road. We’ve finally hit the relief of trees, canopy, and shade as we head in to the forest and set up our first trap. The bait isn’t pretty: rotten fish, fermented in a closed jar in the heat of a tropical rainforest for over a week. Unfortunately for our noses, butterflies, especially less common ones, seem to love it.

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.
Today, and for the past few months, we are watching it unfold right in front of us. While it was once a beautiful narrow road with canopy touching overhead in some parts, it now has much less you could call beautiful. With areas extending as far as 200 feet from the road cleared to allow electricity lines, the road is wide, dry, and bordered by countless fallen trees.

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
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May 22, 2012

Amazon Jungle Wildlife - Orinoco Goose (Neochen jubata)

Orinoco Geese on the Tambopata River in Peru
Orinoco Geese on the Tambopata River in Peru
The Orinoco Goose (Neochen jubata) is a waterfowl species that lives along forested waterways and marshlands in South America. Unlike the familiar species of geese that are frequently seen on lakes and rivers in North America and Europe, the Orinoco Goose is much less common. Although it has a huge range that includes the Amazon basin, Paraguay, and much of southern Brazil, it’s rarely encountered outside of remote, protected areas.

Larger than a Mallard yet smaller than a Canada Goose, the Orinoco Goose is one of the easiest species of birds to see when traveling along remote Amazonian Rivers because they tend to hang out on sandbars and open, rocky areas of rivers. Although this striking looking species of goose lives in the Amazon basin, it’s not really a forest bird. However, unlike most species of ducks and geese, it’s rarely seen floating in the water either!

Orinico Goose in Los Llanos (flatlands), Venezuela
Orinico Goose in Los Llanos (flatlands), Venezuela (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This interesting bird prefers marshes and the open, sparsely vegetated parts of big rivers where it can graze on succulent grasses and other riverside vegetation. In general, it prefers the same type of habitat as Capybaras and forages on similar types of vegetation. Indeed, both Capybaras and Orinoco Geese are often seen near each other although they don’t typically forage for food together.

This waterfowl species is strikingly plumaged with a long, gray neck, chestnut body, and dark green wings. It also has long, bright pink legs and feet better suited for walking than swimming. Its handsome coloration actually helps this species blend into the rocky beaches it prefers, especially since it moves around very little.

A few interesting facts about the Orinoco Goose:
  • Named after one of the longest rivers in South America: This bird is named after the Orinoco River, the most important waterway in northern South America. Large numbers of Orinoco Geese occur in the savannahs that occur near the river of the same name.
  • Restricted to South America: The Orinoco Goose is only found in the Amazon basin, the Orinoco basin, and in the Pantanal wetlands of southern Brazil and Paraguay.
  • Threatened by hunting: Despite its large range, this species has disappeared from many areas due to overhunting and has therefore become restricted to remote, protected places.
  • Related to African species of geese: The closest relative of the Orinoco Goose is the similar Egyptian Goose of Africa.
How to see an Orinoco Goose when taking an Amazon adventure tour:
  • Take a boat ride to the Tambopata Research Center: This striking goose species is often seen along the section of the Tambopata River between the Malinowski checkpoint and the Tambopata Research Center. Orinoco Geese occur along this part of the river because it receives strict protection and has large areas of stony and grassy beaches preferred by this species.
  • Watch the shore of the river: Despite their large size and striking plumage, Orinoco Geese can be overlooked if you don’t watch for them. They don’t move around much and can thus blend into the background. Fortunately, when you take a Peruvian jungle tour with Rainforest Expeditions, your guide will always be watching for, and help you see, Orinoco Geese and other interesting animals.
To experience the wild beauty of Orinoco Geese, take a jungle adventure tour with Rainforest Expeditions.
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What is the Most Dangerous Animal in the Amazon Rainforest?

Ochlerotatus notoscriptus, Tasmania, Australia
Ochlerotatus notoscriptus, Tasmania, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Amazon jungle is a mysterious, primeval place that easily conjures up images of trackless jungles filled with exotic and potentially dangerous wildlife. If you ask the average person what the most lethal animal in the Amazon is, they will probably give answers that range from Piranhas to Anacondas and ferocious Jaguars. However, as intimidating as these and other rainforest animals are, none of them come close to winning the title of the most dangerous animal in the Amazon.

No, that infamous price goes to a creature that is much smaller. Africanized Honeybees and large, scary wasps are potentially dangerous but you have to seriously provoke them to get stung en-masse. Bites from Brazilian Wandering Spiders and several species of venomous snakes would also be dangerous but as long as you don’t play with them, they aren’t going to go out of their way to bite you. However, the same can’t be said for the lowly mosquito and that is partly why those infuriating biting bugs are the most dangerous creature in the Amazon Rainforest.

Although mosquitoes won’t kill you with a bite, the diseases they can carry do so in many parts of the world on a daily basis. Malaria is one of the biggest killers on Earth and this scourge is carried by none other than the mosquito. They also carry that dangerous disease known as Yellow Fever and this is why you have to have a Yellow Fever vaccination when visiting Tambopata, Peru. Although both Yellow Fever and Malaria have become extremely rare (or even eradicated) in Tambopata, the high number of mosquito-related deaths in other parts of the world ensure that mosquitoes retain the title of “most dangerous animal in the Amazon.

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Posada Amazonas Wins Award from Rainforest Alliance

The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal
The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Rainforest Alliance Announces 2012 Gala Honorees, Recognizing Leadership in Sustainability

New York - The Rainforest Alliance, an international sustainability nonprofit, is proud to announce the companies that will receive Sustainable Standard-Setter awards on May 16 at a gala event in New York City. The awards honor businesses and individuals that champion conservation, protect the environment and support local communities.

“For the past 25 years, the Rainforest Alliance has worked hard to transform land, lives and livelihoods across the globe, and we are very proud of our accomplishments,” said Tensie Whelan, president of the Rainforest Alliance. “Our anniversary gala awards ceremony provides us with the opportunity to recognize companies that have worked hard alongside us to promote environmental and social responsibility.”

The 2012 Sustainable Standard-Setter honorees are:
The Posada Amazonas Lobby
  • Blommer Chocolate Company
  • Bloomberg
  • Fazendas Reunidas Vale do Juliana SA
  • Federation of Community Forestry Users, Nepal
  • Global Environment Facility
  • La Arboleda Community Mill
  • Marks and Spencer Group plc
  • The Nabob Coffee Company
  • Posada Amazonas Lodge by Rainforest Expeditions
  • Staples
Posada Amazonas Lodge by Rainforest Expeditions

Teeming with monkeys and more than 850 species of birds, the Madre de Dios region of Peru is a popular destination for adventurers. It is also home to the community-owned Posadas Amazonas Lodge -- a rustic, comfortable inn with spacious, airy rooms and biodiversity-rich surroundings. The Rainforest Alliance Verified™ lodge hires from within the community, and sources locally produced goods whenever possible.

Since joining our verification program, the lodge has implemented:
  • A biodegradable sanitation system
  • Reduced air and water pollution by purchasing eco-friendly boats
  • Improved waste management
  • Conducted extensive training in sustainable management.
These practices make Posada Amazonas an leader of sustainability and ecotourism and an example for other businesses to follow.

About the Rainforest Alliance

The Rainforest Alliance was established 25 years ago with the goal of conserving biodiversity and promoting sustainable livelihoods. By ensuring that sustainably managed lands are profitable for both businesses and communities, the Rainforest Alliance helps farmers, forest managers and tourism businesses realize the greater economic benefits that result from conserving neighboring ecosystems and providing workers with training, safe work conditions, proper sanitation, health care and decent housing. Once businesses have met specified environmental, social and economic standards, the Rainforest Alliance links them to the global marketplace, where the demand for sustainably produced goods is on the rise.

The Rainforest Alliance works with people whose livelihoods depend on the land, helping them transform the way they grow food, harvest wood and host travelers. From large multinational corporations to small, community-based cooperatives, businesses and consumers worldwide are involved in the Rainforest Alliance’s efforts to bring responsibly produced goods and services to a global marketplace where the demand for sustainability is growing steadily. For more information, visit

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May 08, 2012

My Trip to Tambopata: Marc Oliver's Photographic Testimony.

"Reading about and looking at pictures of the Amazon Rainforest is one thing; being in the thick of it is something else entirely! Every day was full of surprises at the TRC as there is such a wealth of biodiversity that it's impossible not to stumble on something new and unexpected as you go about your activities. And while the parrots fly home when night falls, it certainly didn't herald the end of the day but rather the beginning of a new one with its own unique challenges and rewards. Every day and every hour of my week there has been a memorable experience and, as I left, I was already thinking of when to return." ~Marc Oliver

Marc Oliver took some beautiful photos during his visit and was kind enough to share them with us.  To see more of his work, check out his Flickr page.  

 Inociencia the Scarlet Macaw

Turtles and Butterflies

Side Necked Turtles

Spotted Owl
Dusky Titi Monkey

Passion Butterfly

Raid on the Clay Lick

May 01, 2012

What is Ayahuasca? Your questions answered.


What is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is a psychotropic medicine originally used by indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforests of South America.  It is taken as a drink prepared by a traditional healer, called a Shaman.  Preparation involves boiling leaves from the Ayahuasca vine together with leaves from the Chacruna plant as well as the bark of various native trees.  Ayahuasca should only be taken under the guidance of an experienced Shaman who can help an individual better understand their visions.
While Ayahuasca has been used by natives to the Amazon for more than 5,000 years, only in recent years has it gained the attention of modern doctors, psychologists, scientists, philosophers, and religious and spiritual leaders.  It is said to have the ability to cure many ailments, including Parkinson’s disease, HIV, addictions, cancer, anxiety, depression.  Whether looking for an alternative to modern medicine, seeking answers to life’s questions, or wanting nothing more than the cultural adventure, many travelers journey to Tambopata to participate in a traditional Ayahuasca ceremony.

What is an Ayahuasca ceremony?
An Ayahuasca ceremony is led by a Shaman and often takes place in a Maloka, which is a hut or a special place dedicated to the ritual.  It takes place at night and can last anywhere from six to eight hours. Participants in the ceremony form a circle by sitting or laying on the floor on cushions or mats.  Each person is given a container to use in the event that the medicine’s effects on the body induce vomiting.  The atmosphere will be calm and the room will be dark or very faintly lit with candles. 
 The ceremony is sometimes opened by clearing the room of bad energy and evil spirits, this is done through carrying out a short ritual using leaves from the Tobacco plant, another master plant of the Amazon.  Following this, each individual, one by one, is given the opportunity to drink Ayahuasca.  The Shaman also takes the drink, this helps him understand and interpret each persons’ visions.  Participants are encouraged to remain silent and relaxed while the Shaman chants.  As the infusion begins to take effect, the Shaman may approach individuals to discuss their visions and offer comfort or encouragement.  At the end of the evening, as the effects wear off, the ceremony is closed by lighting more candles and allowing participants to discuss their experiences with each other. 

How do I prepare for an Ayahuasca ceremony?
For three days prior and three days after, those who wish to take part in an Ayahuasca ceremony should abstain from alcohol, acidic foods (such as citrus), spicy foods, red meat (especially pork), papaya fruit (very common in the Amazon), and sexual activity. It is also important to prepare mentally for the ceremony, an Ayahuasca ceremony should be entered into with an open mind and positive attitude.

What does it taste like?
In general, Ayahuasca is not palatable, it is thick, gritty and bitter, with a mud-like consistency. The infusion is not drunk for it’s flavor as the taste alone can elicit a gag-reflex.  Following the medicine with a glass of water will help take away the unpleasantness of the drink.

Will I vomit?
Ayahuasca is a purgative medicine, and while everyone reacts differently, vomiting is common. The Shamans believe this to be a means of expelling bad things inside of us, and is not something to be afraid of.  In most Ayahuasca ceremonies, participants are provided with a vessel into which they can purge if necessary. 

What will I see and experience when I take Ayahuasca?
Each person who takes Ayahuasca responds differently.  For some, it can be a strictly visual experience, allowing them to see colors and shapes more brilliantly or see things that do not exist in the physical world.  Others have described the experience as emotional sometimes causing them to cry.  Shamans view crying as a form of positive emotional release.  Many say that Ayahuasca helps them to better understand themselves or see certain situations in their life more clearly.  They enter the ceremony with questions which the plant helps them answer.  It has been said that Ayahuasca allows you to see into your past, present and future.  While this may be true, it is important to remember that the visions you see may not be true representations of the future, but instead might represent your hopes or fears.
For some individuals, an Ayahuasca ceremony can be a very dark experience, giving them the perception of passing into the underworld from which only the Shaman can bring them back. Some have even described it as an exorcism of the demons inside themselves. 
 It is important to keep in mind that Ayahuasca is a curative plant, therefore, visions or feelings that you experience while on it are meant to help you to heal.  Remember that is it important to take Ayahuasca in a safe place with an experienced Shaman who can support you and help you better understand your experience. 

What will I feel like the day after?
The day after drinking Ayahusaca, you will feel tired from having stayed up late the night before. Many people describe feeling peaceful and reflective following an Ayahuasca ceremony.

If you are interested in having your own Ayahuasca experience, check out our wellness and holistic tours.

For further questions or to share your experience, please comment on this blog.

Pandemonium Aviaries and Rainforest Expeditions


Rainbow Lorikeet
Rainforest Expeditions is happy to have partnered with Pandemonium Aviaries in support of their Victoria Crown Affair Gala. We donated a trip to TRC to help them raise funds. Pandemonium Aviaries is a 501(c)3 non-profit bird sanctuary where exotic endangered birds are kept until it is safe for them to be reintroduced to their native countries.

Pandemonium Aviaries is located on the Peninsula near Stanford University in California. To shield the endangered bird species from too much human interaction and disruption, we do not publish our exact location and are not open to the public. Our main mission is to preserve certain bird species until they can be returned to the native habitats. Most of the birds face extinction due to habitat loss, competition with new predators, and war.

We call our approach Avian Recovery for Conservation (ARC). The ARC Program is an innovative and forward thinking initiative dedicated to saving endangered birds and the rapidly disappearing knowledge necessary to sustain avian lives.

If there is a choice, saving birds in their natural habitat is the preferred method. What do you do, however, if conservation in their natural habitat is not possible? The endangered birds that are the current focus of the ARC are endemic to New Guinea. Conditions on this island currently do not support adequate bird conservation. Pandemonium Aviaries has developed an innovative program to save target New Guinea birds by conserving those New Guinea bird (and their offspring) that were once imported into the USA. Our program makes it possible for aviculturists to breed parent raised birds for conservation purposes, rather than to breed them for sale to the pet market. We purchase flocks of endangered birds, and allow breeders to retain their birds until the breeders retire or die. Then the birds come to us. Furthermore, by apprenticing young bird breeders to master breeders, we ensure that breeding expertise and knowledge is preserved along with flocks.

Our long term goal is return of our birds to the wild. At the cornerstone of ARC are partnerships with conservation groups who are experts in habitat protection, species reintroduction and avian health. We will protect birds and knowledge until it is safe to return them to the wild. At that point we will place the birds with our conservation partners since they have the expertise to complete the conservation program. We use established and proven conservation methods in a creative manner focusing on exotic birds currently in the USA. Our role is to preserve the birds, the knowledge and the art of bird keeping.

At the cornerstone of ARC are partnerships with conservation groups who are experts in habitat protection, species reintroduction and avian health. We will protect birds and knowledge until it is safe to return them to the wild. At that point we will place the birds with our conservation partners since they have the expertise to complete the conservation program.

ARC is a ten-year program. We have donated land, we have interested bird keeper/partners, we have the endorsement of major aviculture groups and leading scientists. Pandemonium Aviaries is poised for an immediate start once the funds are raised.

We can’t wait. The flocks and the knowledgeable ‘old time’ bird keepers are aging. The window of opportunity is shrinking.

Please contact if you can help.

Take a video tour of Pandemonium Aviaries: Pandemonium Aviaries Video

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