Our Los Amigos Biological Station, within which our Birding Lodge is located, supports an incredible diversity of birds—nearly 600 species representing one-third of the total bird diversity of Peru. As stewards of their habitat, we have a responsibility and opportunity to better understand this bird life, and enhance conservation efforts among birdwatchers, young conservationists and scientists that visit us year after year. To that end, we have recently launched the Los Amigos Bird Observatory. The Bird Observatory will leverage this incredible wildlife diversity and the facilities managed by Amazon Conservation in order to spread awareness, build capacity, and enhance conservation efforts among birdwatchers, researchers, students, and conservationists. Here you can find updates on what is happening on the ground at the Bird Observatory.

 

Migration in the Amazon: Time to fly away from the cold

October 17, 2018 | Author: Arianna Basto

Solitary sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) unlike other sandpipers and other migratory birds, do not migrate in large flocks and can be found along the banks of shady creeks. PC: Alex Wiebe

Movement is an essential part of our day-to-day lives. However, this is not only true for us; most species are constant on the move. For some, this is due to continuous changes in their surroundings and others because of their ecology. Most of these movements go unnoticed by us, however, there is one that does not: Bird migration. If you look up into the sky at this time of the year, you may notice the unusually high number of birds flying around. For birds that migrate, they do so twice a year, between their breeding homes habitats and their nonbreeding grounds. Some migrations are large-scale like the Artic tern (Sterna paradisaea) which incredibly manages an annual round-trip of 70 000 km. Others are much shorter, such as altitudinal gradient migration along the Andes.

Migration is the seasonal movement from one region to another influenced by a series of factors. Specifically, bird migration is strongly influenced by the availability of nesting sites and food. In temperate zones, the hours of increased light during the summer allows birds to forage for longer periods. Additionally, because of the lower biodiversity, competition for resources and nesting sites is not as intense. These are appealing conditions to use temperate zones as breeding sites. Yet, as the season ends, food availability and the hours of light decrease, and birds have to find suitable grounds for the rest of the year. The tropics, despite the food abundance throughout the year, are not attractive to some species as breeding grounds because of the intense competition for resources and nesting sites due to the great biodiversity. However, most of these species become temporary residents of the tropics until is time to breed again.

Out of all the bird species in the world 40%, or around 4 000, are regular migrants. However, they are unevenly distributed around the world. In countries in the far north like Canada and Scandinavia, birds migrate southwards during the boreal winter to flee the harsh winter and will only go back until the following spring.

Chivi Vireo  (Vireo chivi) is one of the most widespread and common passerines of South America. This species consists of a complex mosaic of resident and migratory populations. During the austral and boreal winter, there is a seasonal overlap between the resident population and wintering population from the temperate zones.  PC: Alex Wiebe

Migration can take several weeks. Because of this, birds enter a state called hyperphagia before their journey. During this state, they will ingest as much food as possible to build up the fat reserves that will provide them with the energy needed for their journey. Once the migration has started, birds use a combination of senses and cues that are not fully understood, to reach their destination. They can orientate themselves by sensing the Earth´s magnetic field, and by the position of the sun, stars, and landmarks seen during the day. Species do not migrate all at once or in the same way. This is why you can see migrating flocks or individuals at different times of the day and for several months. Each species starts its migration at a specific time and some vary their migration year to year depending on food availability. The beginning of migration is also influenced by changes in the length of daylight. First-time migrators often make the journey on their own, despite the fact that they have never been to their winter home before. Impressively they are able to find them.

To avoid exhaustion and starvation during the thousands of kilometers flight, birds stop to recharge their energy along the way. However, by doing so, they are vulnerable to fall victim to predators. While enduring their journey, migratory birds face further threats like wildfires and storms, which appear to be intensifying due to our changing climate; shortages of resting areas, due to human encroachment; disorientation by city lights; and obstacles such as tall buildings. In 1971, The Ramsar Convention on wetland was agreed as a measure to protect migratory birds. However, each year the population of migratory birds decreases due to habitat loss and degradation in the tropics. By protecting the tropical forests, we are ensuring the well-being of migratory birds and ensure that future generations have the opportunity to this spectacle.

For further reading:

  • Salewski, V. & Bruderer, B. (2007) The evolution of bird migration-a synthesis. Naturwissenschaften 94:268-279.
  • Robbins, C., Sauer, J., Greenberg, R. and Droege, S. (1989) Population declines in North American birds that migrate to the neotropics. Population Biology Vol. 86, pp. 7658-7662.

 


A bird rarer than a Jaguar: An encounter with a Tiny Hawk

September 17, 2018 | Author: Tom Matias

Bluish-fronted jacamar (Galbula cyanescens) located in bamboo at LABO. PC: Tom Matia

At the time of my encounter, I did not realize the rarity of the event. I was walking across an old channel of the Los Amigos River that is in its early successional stages. There are no tall trees, instead, there are many shrubs covered in vines. Bordering this channel are the towering trees of the floodplain forest, making this edge habitat an ideal location for a Tiny hawk (Accipiter superciliosus) (Global Raptor). I had just walked past a resting bluish-fronted jacamar (Galbula cyanescens) when my eye caught a glimpse of a bird careening through the vegetation. I followed the shadow through the vegetation and, in the clearing that the trail made behind me, watched a small flying raptor raise its feet forward and pin the bluish-fronted jacamar to its perch.

A photo taken through binoculars of the Tiny Hawk after pinning the jacamar to its perch. PC: Tom Matia

The small raptor (22-28cm/8-11in) is known to be a specialist at predating on avifauna and had the jacamar in its grip (Global Raptor). It seemed the attack would prove fatal as there was hardly a fight from the jacamar. The hawk soon took notice of my presence and, not wanting to disrupt its natural behavior and its success, I walked away from the scene. A few hours passed by the time I returned to investigate the scene; there was not a feather or scrap to be found. This could mean two things, the jacamar made it out the talons of the tiny hawk, however, due to the elongated nature of their talons, I choose to believe that the later, the jacamar left the scene in the grasp of the hawk.

When I returned to eat dinner, I learned that little is known about this species of raptor and that the sighting was very rare! Looking further into this species, I discovered that there is hardly any information on their populations. With the help of citizen science, specifically from eBird by Cornell University, I found that only 130 observations have been recorded in Peru over the past ten years. With such little documentation on this uncommon bird, it is alarming that they are estimated to lose 19-24% of suitable habitat in the next twenty-two years (BirdLife).

The Tiny hawk has an assumed population of 670-6,700 individuals and is currently listed as ‘least concern’ by the IUCN, and BirdLife, due to its expansive range (BirdLife). Hearing these statistics shocked me and I immediately searched population sizes of species that are rare to see. The jaguar (Panthera onca), an animal that is incredibly elusive, yet possibly more likely to be encountered, has roughly 15,000 individuals according to the WWF (Quigley). And so I thought, “a tiny hawk is not something you see every day”.

References:

Global Raptor Information Network. 2018. Species account: Tiny Hawk Accipiter superciliosus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 15 Sep. 2018
BirdLife International (2018) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 16/09/2018.
Quigley, H., Foster, R., Petracca, L., Payan, E., Salom, R. & Harmsen, B. 2017. Panthera onca(errata version published in 2018). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017. Downloaded on 15 September 2018.


Following the ants

August 16, 2018 | Author: Arianna Basto

If you find yourself in the rainforest, it is almost impossible to miss the endless organized columns that army ants form. This group of ants are carnivorous and forage in swarms, raiding everything in their way. If you are not fast enough, you will fall prey to these voracious predators no matter how big you are. If you do outrun them, there are different predators waiting to trap you. Even if you are not an expert birder you probably have heard of Antbirds. This insectivorous group of birds belongs to the family Formicariidae and forage by following army ants. Eciton burchelli and less often Labidus praedator are the species of army ants that Antbirds follow. As simple as this may seem, the relationship is more complex than it sounds, as not all Antbirds are obliged to follow ants.

Hairy-crested Antbird (Rhegmatorhina melanosticta) perched above an army ant swarm | Photo by Will Sweet

This foraging behavior has no counterpart outside the tropics but within them, you can find ant-followers in different altitudes and elevations. Different species attend the raids with different frequencies. The species that regularly attend them and that in some cases depend entirely on the raiding to find their food are known as obligate, or true, Antbirds. A different name is given to the birds that follow the swarms but are also capable of foraging independently of them, they are referred to as regular followers. Lastly are the opportunistic followers, the species that are only seen foraging when the swarm crosses their territory, for which up to 70 species have been identified. In this grouping, there are some non-insectivorous species that opportunistically take advantage of the raid.

Obligate Antbirds, exclusively found in the Amazon region, are limited to the family Thamnophilidae, also known as typical Antbirds. 16 species have been recorded that completely depend on army ant swarms. They depend on army ant raiding swarms to such a degree that in patches of isolated forest where army ants disappear, the Antbirds are gone within a short period of time.  The hairy-crested Antbird (Rhegmatorhina melanosticta), a not easily seen Los Amigos resident, is an example of an obligate Antbird that depends solely on army ants year-round and can be seen in Terra Firme perching low to the ground feasting at the army ants expense.

Following the raids can provide more food than one individual can eat. But for obligate Antbirds, having developed such specialized foraging behavior has its shortcoming. The frequency, abundance, and distance away from their meals depend on the life cycle of army ants. Their life cycle alternates between periods of mobility and stillness, which makes their presence and location in a forest patch unpredictable. Due to army ants’ mobility, their nests are not as you may imagine. They don’t build a nest to live in; rather they sleep in bivouacs. Bivouacs are living ball-shaped nest made out of the workers that protect the queen and her brood.  They alternate between periods of low food ingestion needs and periods of activity every three-weeks, raiding to meet the food requirements of newly born larvae Because of the periods of ants’ stillness, obligate Antbirds have to wander off outside their home range looking for swarms to follow, as a result, they haven’t developed a strict territorial behaviour. In this case, evolution has favored birders; within a swarm raid you can observe several individuals of the same and different species. Make notice that individuals will defend their place along the raid, the closer to the front and the center they get the better the prey they could trap.

If you’re interested in birds, the next time you come to the tropics you might want to go for an early hike and look for the columns of army ants. If you wait patiently, you will be amazed by one of the greatest performances in the rainforest and see several species of highly adapted birds along the way.

 


A flagship year for avian research at Los Amigos

July 23, 2018 | Author: Tommy Matia

In 2018, four exceptional students and/or professionals were chosen as our Franzen Fellows.  Jointly, their passion for birds has led them to pursue work in the Amazon rainforest in order to protect this great frontier.  Currently, the Los Amigos Bird Observatory (LABO) is hosting two of its fellows, Alex Wiebe and Will Sweet.  In this post we will become acquainted with the work that these two are doing and their achievements along the way.

Will Sweet arrived to LABO on May 17th, 2018, and got right to work.  He is examining how different stages of succession around oxbow lakes impact the avifauna communities in the Los Amigos Conservation Concession. To avoid waiting for succession to unfold in real-time, Sweet has set up an observation pattern around three oxbow lakes that are already in different successional phases, from relatively new to almost totally grown over. He conducts point counts along these lakes to assess which birds inhabit which successional level.  In his pursuit, Will strives to understand the contribution of oxbow lakes to the Amazon basins’ high bird diversity, furthering our knowledge of changing landscapes’ effect on avian diversity. Will aims to attend a graduate program next fall while continuing to pursue his passion for birds.

Will Sweet conducting his morning point counts at Cocho Raya | Photo by Zander Nassikas

Finishing his last year of undergraduate studies at Cornell University, Alex Wiebe is spending his summer collecting data on one of the least understood family of birds: tinamous. They are secretive and skittish, which makes them difficult study subjects. Wiebe’s interest in patterns of avian geographic distribution in the Amazon, as well as the factors that affect their distributions, has led him to Los Amigos.  Tinamous are a natural choice for Wiebe’s work. They reach their highest density in the area around Los Amigos with 11 out of the 47 species represented, and since little is known about them, his work stands to have impact. Wiebe will be using his background in statistics to create a spatial distribution model of the tinamous of LABO and across South America. In order to collect his data, Wiebe conducts point counts in a variety of terrestrial habitats, while also recording the locations of rare species as they are heard.  With his results he will build a better understanding of this enigmatic family of birds.

Alex and Will have had an incredible summer thus far and have reached numerous achievements along the way.  Recently, Alex broke the world record for an on-foot Big Day with 347 species. A Big Day is a competitive birding ‘race,’ in which the contestant attempts to see or hear as many different bird species as they can in one 24-hour period. And Will was able to identify a species that is new to LABO: the rusty-margined flycatcher. The work that is being completed by these two fellows will undoubtedly help conserve the Amazon rainforest and the avian species that call it home. 

 


The vultures of Los Amigos

July 13, 2018 | Author: Arianna Basto

Normally when you go out looking for birds, you look for the most colorful ones, or listen for those with the most beautiful songs. We often forget that cryptic birds have a beauty of their own. Vultures are not terribly eye-catching but they serve an important role in the ecosystem as the clean-up crew.

Vultures are scavengers, which means they eat dead meat. They are more efficient at finding carrion compared to other scavengers. You can see them soaring all around in their search for food. Their soaring behavior takes advantage of thermals, air currents warmed by the sun that allows them to reach great altitudes without beating their wings. Once they have found their meal, their extremely acidic stomach destroys any bacteria or viruses established in the carrion. This prevents diseases from proliferating and spreading to other animals and humans. Don’t think that because they are the ecosystem cleaners they are dirty birds; on the contrary, their featherless heads are an adaptation to stay clean while eating.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) soaring around in search of food. | Photo by Alex Wiebe

Although the many species of vultures all over the world serve the same role and have similar appearances, they are divided into two unrelated guilds: The Old World Vultures (Accipitridae) and The New World Vultures (Cathartidae). Los Amigos is home to four of the seven species in the Cathartidae family. The Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus), Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) and King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) are widely distributed in tropical forests, open savannahs, and grassland, while the Greater Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes melambrotus) is restricted to tropical forests. These four species are often seen interacting during lunchtime.

Due to their highly developed olfactory sense, finding carrion is easy for the Turkey and Greater Yellow-headed vultures. They can find their meal as early as an hour after it has been disposed. You may think that this gives them an enormous advantage over our other vulture residents, but the King and Black Vulture have found a way of benefiting from their neighbors’ awesome sense of smell. Since they themselves cannot track carcasses through their smell, they rely on reaching altitudes of 100 feet or more to be able to follow the Turkey and the Greater Yellow-headed vultures to the food source. This behavior is especially apparent in undisturbed forests where the latter is solely responsible for locating carrion and serving as a guide for the other species. This could be due to an even more developed sense of smell than the Turkey vulture or because its wing structure allows them to maneuver better over the tree canopy.

The Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) waiting for its neighbors to find the meal. | Photo by Alex Wiebe

But what happens when all these species come together for lunchtime? Although a dominance hierarchy between species does exist, most of the time there is not a direct aggression between them. The interaction could result in different species feeding at the same time from the same resource or in individuals leaving when a more dominant species is approaching. More intense aggression has been identified between individuals of the same species. Furthermore, the differences between species in size and bill length and the postures they adopt while eating could be a factor allowing the presence of more than one species at a time. These differences enable them to forage from different tissues of the carcass simultaneously, which may reduce direct competition.

Close to Los Amigos, the main threats that vultures seem to face are the misperception of people. People believe they attack their cattle ranch or that they are dirty birds. But as described here, they feed on dead meat and they even prevent diseases from spreading. Despite their unattractive appearances, vultures are interesting and important birds in our ecosystem. Here at Los Amigos we are excited to have this array of species taking care of the health of our forest.

If you see the King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) and Greater Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes melambrotus) from far, you can tell them apart based on the color of their breast plumage. | Photos by Alex Wiebe

For more references:

  • Gomez, L.G., Houston, D. C., Cotton, P. and Tye, A. 2008. The role of Greater Yellow-headed Vultures Cathartes melambrotus as scavengers in neotropical forest. IBIS Journal 136: 193-196
  • Houston, D.C. 1987. Competition for food between Neotropical vultures in forest. IBIS Journal 130: 402-417

 


Unveiling the presence of the rare Grey-bellied hawk at Los Amigos

Grey-bellied hawk at Los Amigos_ Fernando Angulo

June 25, 2018 | Author: Carla Mere

The Grey-bellied hawk (Accipiter poliogaster) is a rare diurnal raptor of the Accipitridae family and is distributed throughout the Neotropics. BirdLife has it listed as a “near threatened” bird and, despite their wide distribution, it is one of the least known of the raptors. In Peru, it occurs in the eastern side of the country, mostly in lowland tropical forests, and has been also reported along forest edges, and fragmented forest. Since 2015, birders at Los Amigos have been able to observe and admire the beauty of this raptor. This represents a unique opportunity to learn and increase the scarce knowledge about this species. In this note, we recapped A. poliogaster sightings at Los Amigos (LA).

In June of 2015, a Peruvian researcher specializing on raptors (R. Piana), found a juvenile A. poliogaster hunting at the forest edge near the Los Amigos River, at LA. The following year, September of 2016, Fernando Angulo (LABO Advisory member) and R. Piana located a reproductive pair defending their territory located ~1 km away from the station. Both individuals were sighted in the same location on consecutive days after the first encounter. On April of last year, a Peruvian bird guide, identified a juvenile of this species around LA garden, close to the territory identified the previous year. Lastly, on mid-April of the present year (2018), two juvenile individuals were located on a nest situated on an emergent tree and in the same territory of the reproductive pair previously identified. These events prove that A. poliogaster is breeding and nesting within the Los Amigos Biological Station, making this place a unique study site for this species.

Juvenile Grey-bellied hawk on the nest _ Cesar Bollatty

The first recorded observation of the reproductive behavior and biology of A. poliogaster were described in Southern Brazil few years ago, where an adult female was observed incubating two eggs and an adult male was actively hunting. Only one nestling survived, and after ~49 days post-hatching the nestling left the nest. The fledging was fed by the female for ~90 days post-hatching. Given the importance of raptors in Neotropical forest, and LABO’s goal to increase the knowledge and conservation efforts of Neotropical avifauna, one of our Franzen fellows, Igor Lazo, will be assessing the ecology and natural history of A. poliogaster at LA, being the first study of this species in Peru. The information coming out from this project will create a firm foundation for further research on the Grey-bellied hawk!

For more references:

Boesing, A.L., Menq, W., Dos Anjos, L. 2012. First description of the reproductive biology of the Grey-bellied hawk (Accipiter poliogaster). The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 124(4): 767-774.

 

 


Growing up in the rainforest: A Razor-billed curassow chick growth captured by a camera trap for over a month!

June 19, 2018 | Author: Carla Mere

The razor-billed curassow (Mitu tuberosum) is one of the largest species of cracids (Galliformes:Aves) and a relatively uncommon bird in western Amazonian rainforest because of their low reproductive rates and highly vulnerable status due human disturbances such as hunting and habitat loss. These permanent threats have already driven one of the 24 species of Cracids, the Alagoas curassow (Mitu mitu), considered for many years a geographic variation of Mitu tuberosum, to extinction in the wild. Cracids’ presence is considered an indicator of healthy forests where hunting is absent or low, allowing them to play important ecological roles as seed dispersers and seed predators.

Los Amigos harbors 4 species of cracids, such as the Speckled chachalaca (Ortalis guttata), the Spix’s guan (Penelope jacquacu), Blue-throated piping guan (Pipile cumanensis), and the Razor-billed curassow (Mitu tuberosum), all of which have diurnal and terrestrial behavior. Camera traps have become an important tool to monitor and obtain ecological information about terrestrial birds. At the beginning of this year, LABO’s cameras registered the presence of a Razor-billed curassow chick, and what we believe to be its growth during a time lapse of over 40 days.

On January 4, one of our camera traps deployed in the interior of a bamboo patch captured the presence of two razor-billed curassows. The images indicate the occurrence of, perhaps, an adult male and female, based on the physical traits, specifically the size of their bills since males have a larger bill formation compared to females. Two weeks after, one individual was registered with a chick, walking right under the long terminal tail of the adult. The chick presented dark feathers, mostly black and brown coloration with some lighter patterns throughout the body and head, and a white belly. The characteristic laterally compressed and bright red bill of this species was not yet developed. After 42 days, the camera captured an adult individual with a visibly grown nestling walking again under the adult’s tail. Could it had been the same chick captured more than a month before? Perhaps yes! This time the immature offspring had body plumage coloration similar to an adult, mostly black, except the head; and the red bill was also noticeable, but not fully developed. In the video, the adult individual was feeding its offspring, confirming the probability of being the mother.

The razor-billed curassow, locally known as “paujil,” is a commonly hunted cracid in Amazonia. Despite the IUCN Red List considering it as “least concern”, there are not many studies or available literature that describes its biology and/or ecology. More studies on their population size, reproductive behavior, breeding and nesting information, are required to determine their current status. Cracids, in general, lay on average two eggs every year; hatchlings are exposed to high mortality rates during their first year, and reach maturity after the third year! This is a fairly long maturation period, but the wait is worth it just to admire a beautiful large terrestrial bird like the razor-billed curassow!

What are your guesses? Could this camera be showing us the growth of the same curassow chick?

 


Global Big Day 2018: Peru won second place, but we set some records ourselves!

Birds are stunning animals, and are able to bring groups of people together to share the same passion: birdwatching! On May 5th, I experienced perhaps one of the most exciting and inspiring events of my life. From the organization, advertising and planning of more than 500 teams and more than a thousand of people throughout Peru, to the enthusiasm and big expectations of our team at Los Amigos. This Global Big Day (GBD) triggered a competitive, healthy contest among countries, regions, cities and remote locations throughout the world with the incredible objective of increasing the knowledge and valuing birds of all species and the importance of their and their habitats conservation. Peru gained second place globally with 1490 species registered in 24 hours, while Colombia won first place with 1542 species. A difference of only 52 birds!

          

On May 5, Los Amigos strategy…

Los Amigos has a diverse array of habitats, making this forest a unique place for birdwatching and for any passionate naturalist who is looking for those rare or endemic birds. Due to this mosaic landscape, our team, which was led by three expert birders (read our last note), aimed to cover the largest variety of habitats throughout the Big Day. We started before dawn, splitting our team in two: one group walking through terra firme forest, bamboo patch, and the airstrip, and the other going through floodplain, secondary forest, and Cocha Lobo oxbow lake. Before the sunrise, a thick morning mist covered the enchanted Amazonian forest allowing us to hear the calls of the Barred-forest falcon, Amazonian motmot, while we were also able to appreciate the gorgeous display of a Blue-crowned manakin male, among others. Close to noon, the heat and sunlight was intense (as usual), and was followed by the silence of Amazonian birds. After a quick lunch, we got back to the trails and this time our two teams switched trails covering the same habitats done in the morning plus river edge forest along the Madre de Dios River. The day before the GBD was very rainy, causing the beaches along the river to disappear the following day. Despite that, we were still able to register shorebirds such as the Great egret, the Ringed Kingfisher, and others.

Within less than 452 ha (Los Amigos Biological Station total area), and after more than 13 hours and 20 km walked, we ended our Big Day with a total of 299 bird species, including some noteworthy birds such as the Black-faced cotinga, Pale-winged trumpeters, Long-crested pygmy tyrant, Blue-headed macaws (to check the complete list, check our eBird hotspot in the following link: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L492606?m=5&yr=cur&changeDate=Set). Proud of our record, we are happy to announce that Los Amigos and its team members (Fernando Angulo and Alex Wiebe) are included among the first 10 Top eBirders in Peru with more than 250 species registered, demonstrating that this place is a real birding paradise. However, more than the numbers and the winners, this past GBD 2018 will be remembered by the passion, cohesion, increasing interest and participation of thousands of Peruvians, including bird guides, biologists, but also citizens not related with this field that got together to support a magnanimous environmental cause. As Fernando Angulo, LABO Advisory Member and team member of Los Amigos GBD, said: “Peruvian birders: we have won ourselves and the objective for this GBD has been surpassed. Peru had registered 160 more species than 2017.”

And we know that we can do more! Keep it up, birders around the world!

 

 


The Biggest “Big Day” for Los Amigos Bird Observatory

The Global Big Day (GBD) is getting closer, and besides being the birding’s biggest day worldwide, where thousands of birders get together to celebrate birds for 24 hours straight, it is also a means to improve human’s commitment to conserving these species. For us, it represents a unique opportunity to admire and spread awareness of the importance of maintaining the astounding bird diversity found at Los Amigos. Birding is one of the most exciting experiences for anyone who has a passion for birds, but is particularly challenging throughout the densely foliated and dark forest typical of lowland Amazonia, where bird vocalization is key to identify species. We here at Los Amigos are incredibly excited about our upcoming GBD, and did not want to miss this opportunity to share some of our previous experience of Los Amigos Big Days!

On May 9 of 2015, Peru beat the world record and conquered the precious first place of birds with 1188 species registered, followed by Brazil, and Colombia. This not only reaffirmed Peru’s unique avian diversity but also revealed Peru’s potential for birdwatching as an important ecotourism activity. On that day, Peru as a country was not the only area making history on avian records; Los Amigos itself was positioned in nothing less than the fifth place at the global level, with 308 bird species! In July of that same year, Sean Williams, an avian researcher, did his own Big Day after a friaje, a massive cold front that comes from the Antartic winds and hits the Amazon. After several field seasons spent at Los Amigos, Sean was able not only to become highly familiar with the avifauna by recognizing the songs, and even locations and nests of rare birds. July 23rd became one Sean’s biggest big days, and after an exhaustive 19 hours and 11 miles of complete immersion into the calls and colorful flying displays across forest strata, Sean registered 345 species! Sean’s Big Day is imprinted in his memory, highlighting his eternal passion for the Amazon and its birds.

Undoubtedly, Los Amigos avifauna is vast, and besides just walking miles and miles during a Big Day, it is important to create a strategic plan to experience it. Last summer, Alex Wiebe, a young ornithologist but incredibly knowledgeable about Neotropical avifauna, came last year to Los Amigos, and did his big day registering 250 bird species throughout the day, covering all the different types of habitats. In doing so, endemics and charismatic birds such as the Rufous-fronted anthrush, Ihering’s antwren, Long-crested pygmy tyrant, Black-faced cotinga, Peruvian recurvebill, Manu parrotlet, Pavonine quetzal, Blue-headed macaws, Rufous-vented ground cuckoo, Spangled and Plum-throated cotinga can be just a few of the names marked on your checklist.

This year, Los Amigos Bird Observatory is ready for the GBD with a team led by birding experts that will be searching for the nearly 600 bird species throughout the mosaic landscape of Los Amigos! The team is comprised of: Fernando Angulo, avian researcher of CORBIDI and LABO Advisory member; Alex Wiebe, Franzen Fellow, and student of Cornell University; and Rolin Flores, an indigenous bird guide from the community of Diamante around Manu National Park with vast birding experience in the Manu region. All the memorable Big Days records at Los Amigos have taken our breath away and demonstrated that the efforts of preserving this mesmerizing forest and its surroundings are visible in the wildlife and avifauna thriving in Los Amigos, our home.

 

 


Birds of Prey: Neotropical monkeys’ most fearsome predators

April 5, 2018 | Author: Carla Mere |

Jaguars are without a doubt the top predators in Amazonia, but organisms flying above the canopy certainly have a big advantage and unique predation skills that make them respectable predators when compared to wild cats. Raptors are considered the major predators of new world primates, such as crested eagles (Morphnus guianensis) predation on infant tamarins (Leontocebus mystax & L. fuscicollis) and also squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus); black-hawk eagles are also known to attack howler monkeys; and the largest and powerful harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) predation on saki, capuchin and night monkeys. Current ecological knowledge of Neotropical raptors is scarce, thus filling in the gaps of information on this particular group of birds will allow us to understand their ecology and general biology, whether it is through anecdotal incidents or observations in the field.

Photo by Marc Fasol

The black-and-white hawk eagle (Spizaetus melanoleucus) is one of the 55 birds of prey found at Los Amigos. Compared to other well-known raptors such as the mighty harpy eagle or the crested eagle, the black-and-white hawk eagle is a small size bird (body mass: 780-1191 g; wingspan: 110-135 cm), feeding mainly on terrestrial and arboreal birds such as tinamous and guans, and some documents report small mammals and reptiles in their diet. However, successful predation on primates by this species was not described until 2014, when a group of researchers witnessed and described the mortal attack of the Rylands’ bald-faced saki monkey (Pithecia rylandsi) at Los Amigos.

 

Ryland’s bald-face saki carcass on the forest floor, and attacked by the black-and-white hawk eagle. Photo: Adams & Williams, 2017

This fatal event was recorded on 23 July, 2014, during a long-term project assessing the anti-predation behavior and alarm calling of P. rylandsi at Los Amigos. While conducting the usual primate behavior monitoring, one of the research assistants heard a large bird flapping, followed by alarming calls of a group of sakis, which are whistle-like calls emitted when they detect an eagle’s presence. Upon the researcher’s return after a couple of hours, he heard wing’s flapping in the same location. After following the motion event, the researcher found out the black-and-white hawk eagle feeding on an adult saki’s carcass on the ground. The black-and-white hawk quickly flew away after detecting the researcher approaching. Most of the saki’s flesh, muscles and skin were removed, with fur scattered beside and along a 16.4 m path away from the carcass. Several puncture holes were noted on the body and skull, while the stomach lay untouched next to the body despite most of the soft tissue having been removed. Although the observers didn’t visually witness the attack, the described observations together with the physical injuries documented on the saki most likely indicate that it was the black-and-white hawk-eagle as its predator.

 

Black-and-white hawk eagles utilize the “soar and stoop” hunting tactic, compared to the “perch and wait” strategy used by large raptors, consisting of searching for preys above the canopy and forest edges and, upon prey detection, diving rapidly into the forest to attack them. This report suggested that smaller and lesser-known raptors, like the black-and-white hawk eagle, should also be considered important predators of Neotropical primates, principally those that occupy the mid to upper canopy given their hunting strategy. Identifying and providing evidence of predation events like this is key to learn more about less prominent raptors, so keep your eyes and ears open while walking in the forest!

 

For more references:

Adams, D., Williams, S. 2017. Fatal attack on a Ryland’s bald-faced saki monkey (Pithecia rylandsi) by a black-and-white hawk eagle (Spizaetus melanoleucus). Primates 58: 361-365.

Robinson, S. 1994. Habitat selection and foraging ecology of raptors in Amazonian Peru. Biotropica 26(4): 443-458.

 

 


There is no song copyright in the birdcall industry

March 23, 2018 | Author: Carla Mere

Even if it is your first time in the Amazon forest or you are lucky enough to live and enjoy a green heaven like it, you will be enchanted by its colors, the moist aroma of rain falling on the low nutrient Amazonian soil, as well as a chorus of melodies displaying harmonic rhythm, from low to high pitch sounds, music that represents breath, words, and life. These last three representations could not better describe the importance of animal vocalization in a tropical rainforest. Among birds, specifically, this is a critical way they communicate among one another in competition for mates and territories.

Hypocnemis peruviana (male) by Joe Tobias

Inability to differentiate vocal signals within and between species could lead to unnecessary territorial aggression, negative impacts on a species reproductive success (i.e. unfit hybrids), and overall fitness. Therefore it is expected that birdsongs are specific for every species, particularly in dense forests like Amazonia, where vocal signals are more valuable and efficient than visual cues. So, is it possible for two sympatric bird species (not closely related) to sing the same songs?

The answer is YES! Research conducted by LABO Advisory group members at Los Amigos in 2008, Professor J. Tobias and N. Seddon, found that two Neotropical antbirds species have almost identical songs, making this the first evidence demonstrating that convergent evolution (i.e. organisms of different lineages evolving similar traits) can occur through social interactions between species.

The studied species were two sympatric Hypocnemis antbirds: H. peruviana and H. subflava, which are highly abundant organisms inhabiting the understory of Los Amigos forest. Hypocnemis antbirds are small monogamous passerine birds, and molecular tests have showed that H. peruviana and H. subflava are non-sister species and were split from a common ancestor ~3.4 million years ago. Even though they have been part of different lineages a long time ago, both species share similar foraging behavior, diet, six standard body morphological measurements. However these species do differ in  their plumage color (Figure 1 and 2). Moreover, songs in suboscine passerine birds, such as Hypocnemis, are not learned and instead are genetically determined, however this had been challenged by other studies that suggest that vocal learning does lead to song differences in suboscines. Hypocnemis vocalizations play important roles in intrasexual competition, mate attraction and territory defense. From all the characteristics mentioned above, it is assumed that highly territorial organisms must rely on vocal signals specificity to discriminate between species and individuals.

Hypocnemis subflava (male) by Joe Tobias

Dr. Tobias and Dr. Seddon analyzed 343 songs of 96 sympatric individuals (H. subflava and H. peruviana) through acoustic and playback experiments at Los Amigos, and demonstrated that territorial songs in males are more similar than non-territorial signals between both species, not allowing males to discriminate the territorial signals of individuals of the same and different species. The same pattern was found in females. How could this phenomenon be explained? First, even though H. subflava and H. peruviana are partially segregated by habitat, both species interact regularly at territory boundaries, increasing the likelihood of rivalry for space and food. This latter explanation is supported by the fact that both antbirds are not migratory birds and neither move outside their territory. LABO Advisory members suggested that song convergence must be a consequence of selection forces caused by competition between species, which is supported by several studies showing that song matching (i.e. answering with a similar song) is an aggressive display in territory disputes, within and between species!

For more reference:

1. Tobias, J.A. & Seddon, N. (2009). Signal design and perception in Hypocnemis antbirds: Evidence for convergent evolution via social selection. Evolution 63, 3168-3189.

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Seeing red is not always a bad thing: a look inside a hummingbird’s flower!

March 1, 2018 | Author: Carla Mere

The tiniest birds on Earth are one of the most astonishing living beings with an incredibly fast metabolic rate: hummingbirds! They are specialized nectar feeding organisms inhabiting only the Americas, and where the hummingbird-pollinated flowers provide them with the tasty and sweet solution to fulfill their high energetic demands. These plants use hummingbirds as a reliable, and long-range pollinator, and are generally characterized as odorless, with long-tubular corolla, conspicuous coloration, while also producing high sucrose-content nectar. Some of the most common plants families are the colorful Heliconiaceae, Rubiaceae, Fabaceae, Bromeliaceae. But even though hummingbirds pollinate and feed on several plant species, there is one large commonality that exists among most of them: their visible orange-red corolla. But is it actually the flower’s color that attracts them?

Festive Coquette perching on a Verbena plant

White-necked Jacobin feeding on a Heliconia rostrata

Sparkling violetear  feeding on an orange-tubular corolla

In general, color is a very critical cue for animals, and is mostly associated with the gaining of rewards. Among birds, the distinctive and the flamboyant hummingbird is a good example because vision is one of their most acute senses that they rely on to find their food and also mates. Hummingbird’s great vision -even better than humans- allows them to see colors near ultraviolet light, which is the reason why conspicuous flowers are highly visible to them.

Contrary to what might be expected, it is not only the bright red coloration that influences hummingbirds’ choice but instead a combination of traits. Conspicuous flowers are the first requisite to advertise the nectar to hummingbirds, where the conspicuousness will depend on the background where the flower is exhibited. For instance, heliconias resemble a wild bouquet with red flowers bursting at the top, surrounded by large and wide green stalks. Perfect for capturing hummingbird’s attention!

Handmade hummingbird feeder at Los Amigos | Photo by Emily Middendorf

But what truly matters is what is inside that flower: the nectar. Research conducted in the laboratory suggested that higher sucrose concentration is more important than color or even other sugars (e.g. fructose, glucose) in determining hummingbird’s food choice. It is known that in tropical and temperate areas hummingbird-pollinated flowers have nectars with high concentration of sucrose. Thus, rather than discriminating due to color alone, hummingbirds learn how to associate colors and rewards, and once learned, they will go for the flower with the greatest reward – no matter coloration!

Hummingbird feeders are highly common outside of nature lodges or nature lovers’ homes. In fact, it’s easy to create your own hummingbird feeder to have outside of your house! Here’s how to make your own feeder using an empty water bottle (we find that Gatorade bottles are perfect feeders!) and red paint (or any color within the visible range!). Just remember that no matter the color you chose to paint the feeder, the most important thing is to ensure that you provide energetic and sweet nectar that can fulfill their voracious appetite.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Carlos Altomirano

 


There is nothing like eggs for breakfast: Great tinamou eggs predation at Los Amigos

February 16, 2018 | Author: Carla Mere

Daily and long hikes in the forest always unveil remarkable events in nature, events that could be easily overlooked if our curiosity for understanding nature and its complexity didn’t exist. LABO is currently studying the ecology of the 11 sympatric tinamou species that cohabit Los Amigos forest. Therefore, any observation of these ground-dwelling birds in the field is highly valuable. This past, late November, a Great tinamou nest was found with eight enormous and perfectly bright turquoise eggs. It was found in the middle of primary floodplain forest, two meters off a trail, and right below a tree with big buttresses. Unfortunately, a male tinamou, whose presence would have certainly increased the survival rates of these beautiful eggs, was not found incubating the nest but instead the turquoise color were spotted decorating the dark-brown forest floor during a rainy day at Los Amigos.

Few weeks ago we described tinamou egg coloration, and how male incubation and high nest attendance increase the threats posed by the bright coloration of tinamou’s eggs. Great tinamou (Tinamus major) are one of the largest (1500 g) tinamou species in Amazonia, laying large (56 – 63 mm), turquoise colored eggs between buttresses right on top of brown leaf-litter on the forest floor, without an elaborated and secured nest. Studies on the incubation behavior and nest attendance of Great tinamous have reported that males protect their eggs feverishly, unwilling to leave the eggs and remaining immobile during incubation, even allowing researchers to touch them! But, clutch abandonment can occur when the individual is highly or constantly disturbed, forcing the tinamou to leave and fly quickly out of the nest. Unlike other birds such as emperor penguins, Great tinamous do not choose and have one partner throughout their life but instead they are highly promiscuous. A female mates with different males, and then lays the eggs that will be incubated by the males. Males can incubate clutches of a single female (3 eggs) or of several females (up to 8 eggs).

The Great tinamou clutch (8 eggs) found at Los Amigos, was most likely laid by several females and abandoned by the male tinamou after constant human disturbance (i.e. researchers presence along the trail) near the nest. A camera trap was deployed near the clutch in order to record the -hopefully- return of the male tinamou or most likely observe their predation. The male tinamou did not come back, but instead of being left with nothing exciting happening to the nest, the camera trap recorded several independent moments of predation. The nest was frequently visited by rodents, three times by a tayra (Eira barbara), and four times by a white-throated toucan (Ramphastos tucanus).  During the total number of visits of the tayra and toucan, they took 4 and 3 eggs each respectively. The remaining egg could have broken, with the content being eaten by the rodents or tayra that was sighted once without taking any egg from the nest. All these events happened in one month, after which the clutch vanished, leaving us with the hope that somewhere else in Los Amigos forest, another male is peacefully incubating a tinamou clutch!

 

 


Palm swamps: Home sweet home for the blue and yellow macaws!

February 2, 2018 | Author: Carla Mere

The majesty of Amazonian blue skies and the guardians of the forest have one name and it is: macaws. Their bright colorful plumage and strenuous calls bring harmony to Los Amigos landscape and are a pure delight to the human eyes. Unfortunately, these are the same characteristics that make them highly threatened by pet trade, in addition to the increased rates of habitat degradation and deforestation in the Amazon. Locations where birdwatchers, naturalists, photographers, or any environmental enthusiast can admire these stunning creatures are not many, but in ‘collpas’ or clay licks in southeastern Peru several macaws’ species can display their beauty while feeding. The collpas are locations where animals consume soil, and there are various hypotheses that explain soil consumption such as: mineral supplementation, adsorption of dietary toxins, and mechanical aid to digestion, among others.

Photo credit: Dr. Jonathan E. Kolby, Director, Honduras Amphibian Rescue & Conservation Center, www.FrogRescue.com

Blue-and-yellow (Ara ararauna) macaws, one of the seven species of macaws at Los Amigos, rather than being large frequenters of clay licks are highly associated with palm swamps. However, these brightly colored birds are not attracted to just palm swamp but with the Mauritia flexuosa palm, locally known as “aguajal.” Interestingly, palm fruit is not the main reason why blue-and-yellow macaws are closely tied to this plant, instead their nesting preferences is what makes these palm swamps so appealing. Mauritia flexuosa occurs in monospecific stands, growing in mostly swampy areas. The palm’s height reaches up to 30 m and 30-60 cm in diameter, only the female individuals produce around 500 fruits every season, which are consumed by a variety of animals –including macaws- and have a social and economic importance throughout the Peruvian Amazon. Unfortunately, current harvesting techniques of the “aguaje” are decimating their population, as the female palm is chopped down in order to obtain the edible fruits.

Like most large macaw species, A. ararauna has a low reproductive rate and their reproductive behavior may be affected by the lack of appropriate nesting sites in their natural environment. Blue-and-yellow macaws nest almost exclusively in hollow and dead M. flexuosa palms, at height of approximately 15 meters. After a palm dies, the leafed crowns dry and fall, and the palm heart -located in the trunk’s interior- starts dissecating leaving a hollow trunk with solid walls, creating an ideal nesting site for macaw’s eggs incubation and chicks survival. Certainly, macaws are highly meticulous when finding an appropriate nesting site. Besides finding a dead hollow palm, they have to be isolated from tall surrounding canopy and any other hanging vegetation. In addition, while inside the hollow trunk rotting palm fibers cover the nest floor. These palm characteristics of being a hollow and dead palm that is isolated from surrounding vegetation, is doubtless a good strategy to avoid predation from voracious raptors and arboreal organisms.

A study conducted in Madre de Dios analyzed the advantages of managing M. flexuosa palm swamps to protect the nesting ecology and population of blue-and-yellow macaws. This was done in a small section of a palm swamp by cutting the top of the palms and removing the understory vegetation. Although it might seem like a drastic management tool, the study reported that cut palms persisted from 4 to 7 years, and were occupied by macaws’ nest at a rate of 24%! From this data, authors suggested that cutting 5 palms annually will generate areas of ~20 dead palms that could be used by 6 or more pairs of macaws every year, thus increasing the reproductive success of blue-and-yellow macaws. This could also be used for ecotourism purposes. In fact, Los Amigos has M. flexuosa palm swamps where blue-and-yellow macaws thrive together with scarlet and red-and-green macaws! The protection of this habitat is vital for their survival, and reminds us how amazing and enchanting the Amazon rainforest is, and how connected every organism is with this immense forest.

For further reference:

Brightsmith, D., & Bravo, A. 2006. Ecology and management of nesting blue-and-yellow macaws (Ara ararauna) in Mauritia palm swamps. Biodiversity and Conservation, 15: 4271-4287.

 

 


Egg coloration in Tinamous: Are their colorful eggs a smart adaptation?

January 16, 2018 | Author: Carla Mere

With a chicken-like appearance and terrestrial behavior, tinamous are by far some of the most common and unique birds at Los Amigos. Undulated tinamous roam around the station searching for their most delicious prey such as insects, seeds and fruits. But undulated tinamous are not the only species inhabiting Los Amigos forest. Despite their highly camouflaged plumage and lack of flight capabilities, they are definitely a group that captures the attention of any birder or naturalist. Here we tell you why!

Tinamous (Family Tinamidae) are a group of ground-dwelling birds distributed from central Mexico to southern Argentina. There are 47 tinamou species throughout the Neotropics, but it is in the southwestern Amazon where they reach their peak in diversity. Los Amigos harbors eleven of the 47 species, from the largest Great tinamou, to the tiny Little tinamou, and others such as Gray tinamou, White-throated tinamou, Cinereous tinamou, Brown tinamou, Undulated tinamou, Brazilian tinamou, Black-capped tinamou, Variegated tinamou, and Barlett’s tinamou. But what is interesting about these birds and why biologists should consider conducting more studies on this group? The answer is that tinamous are naturally rare birds; few studies have focused on them even though they are highly vulnerable to hunting and deforestation.

Compared to other Neotropical birds, tinamous have two very interesting facts: males perform parental care and the females lay exceptionally colorful eggs. Predation is one of the main causes of nest failure, thus having a direct impact on birds’ life history. In order to minimize nest failure by a predator’s visual, auditory or chemical cues, the vast majority of birds have evolved camouflaged plumage, build camouflage nests, and/or lay camouflaged eggs. The reason being that cryptic eggs are exposed to less predation risks than non-cryptic eggs, particularly for ground-nesting birds, such as tinamous. However, tinamous are an exception, laying eggs that range from bright blue green, to chocolate brown, violet and light pink colors, most of which have a glossy appearance, making the eggs stand out rather than blend with its surroundings.

Brennan (2010) aimed to understand the predation of great tinamou clutches and tried to explain why tinamou eggs are not camouflaged. For instance, Great tinamous lay large turquoise colored eggs in nests that are located on top of brown leaf litter, thus making them easy to see! Male tinamous are in charge of egg incubation, incubating almost uninterruptedly, and take care of the precocial offspring. After monitoring the nests through video cameras and egg-exchange experiments to collect DNA, Brennan found that there was a significantly higher risk of predation during incubation than during egg laying. This suggests that rather than using the egg cues (i.e. bright coloration), predators use cues from incubating males to locate clutches. High levels of nest attendance from male tinamous could possibly lead to a reduced selection for egg camouflage, thus allowing this particular trait to evolve over time and perhaps making it worthy for other functions.

Want to know more about tinamous? Make sure to keep reading #LosAmigosBirdObservatory posts on Facebook for future research updates!

For more references:

Brennan, P. 2010. Clutch predation in great tinamous Tinamus major and implications for the evolution of egg color. Journal of Avian Biology 41: 1-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0587.2010.04999.x

Cabot, J. 1992. Family Tinamidae (tinamous). Pp. 112–138 in del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, & J. Sargatal (Eds.). Handbook of the birds of the world. Volume 1: Ostrich to ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Davis, S. J. J .F. 2002. Ratites and tinamous. Oxford University Press. New York, New York.

Schelsky, W. M. 2004. Research and conservation of forest-dependent tinamou species in Amazonia, Peru. Ornitologia Neotropical 15: 317-321.

 

 


Uniting bird conservation through science! Announcing the first Franzen Fellows of 2018!

January 3, 2018 | Author: Carla Mere

If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world.” – Thomas Lovejoy

Last year, we began the search for the most talented and most important passionate students and/or professionals that have found birds to be the source of their greatest inspiration and reason to protect the Amazon rainforest. The Franzen Fellowship was implemented as part of our LABO program to increase current efforts in avian research and conservation, as well as to train the next generation of ornithologists. With almost 600 species of birds, Los Amigos harbors a unique avian assemblage, because it contains some species that are rare in other parts of the country and in the rest of Amazon. After a competitive and arduous selection process, we are pleased to announce the first Franzen fellows of the Los Amigos Bird Observatory. Meet our winners!

Igor Lazo, Peruvian biologist, is currently working as an Avian Specialist and Environmental Educator at Centro de Ornitología y Biodiversidad (CORBIDI) in Chiclayo, Peru. He has volunteered in Laquipampa, monitoring local avifauna but particularly the wild population of the white-winged guan (Penelope albipennis). Igor has also collaborated on the Macaw Project within the Tambopata National Reserve, working with the family Psittacidae. He is a consultant in ornithology, and assistant in mist-netting.

 

 

Matteo Sebastianelli’s interest in ornithology started in 2012, while volunteering in a biodiversity research project at the Taricaya Ecological Reserve, Madre de Dios, Peru. This experience along with field courses taken in Venezuela have allowed him to learn more about bird monitoring and the biodiversity of tropical birds. Once back in Italy, Matteo joined various ringing stations dedicated to studying avian population dynamics, seasonality of migrants and behavioral traits. Later, at Ornis Italica (non-profit organization based in Rome) Matteo was in charge of monitoring and behavioral studies of the European Roller (Coracias garrulus) breeding in nest boxes in Rome and Viterbo provinces. In 2017, Matteo worked as an assistant research fellow at TechnoSmArt Europe S.R.L., training homing pigeons to test electronic devices, GPS and Axy-Trek application, data collection and aviary maintenance; allowing him to increase his expertise in understanding avian ecology migration and orientation, and GPS skills.

 

Will Sweet grew up as a birder in Sharon, Massachusetts. His passion for birds pushed him to attend Wheaton College in Massachusetts. He graduated in May of 2017 with a degree in Biology and a minor in Political Science. During his time at Wheaton, Will chose to study abroad with the Organization for Tropical Studies in South Africa. This experience drove him towards the field of ornithology. The summer following his semester abroad, Will returned to South Africa to aid in conducting point counts to help understand how habitat alteration by African Bush Elephants is changing avian community composition. During the fall of 2017, he returned to the field as a research technician for a University of Georgia PhD candidate conducting his research in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica. During this position, Will conducted point counts, mist netted and captured more than 80 species of birds, saw 472 species of birds, and helped attach GPS transmitters to Northern Emerald-Toucanets and Lesson’s Motmots.

 

Alex Wiebe started birding when he was 9 years old making it a major part of his life ever since. He started his undergraduate degree at Cornell University in 2015 and studies biological sciences and statistics there, with an emphasis in conservation. Alex’s research has highlighted the use of new statistical and technological methods in ecology and evolutionary biology, including using high speed cameras to film superb lyrebird courtship displays in Australia and tracking obligate ant-following antbirds in Panama with radio telemetry. Alex works with the eBird team at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology on their Detectives de Aves and PROALAS (Programa de América Latina para Aves Silvestres) programs to provide educational outreach and develop avian survey methodology for conservation efforts.

Our Franzen fellows will be starting their projects this year, so be sure to check in and learn more about their exciting work! Congratulations to our winners!

 

 

 


What the flock?! – A quick understanding of Amazonian mixed-bird species flocks

December 7, 2017 | Author: Carla Mere

Long-winged antwren

If you spend enough time at Los Amigos, there is almost a 100% guarantee that you will learn something new about birds every day. It’s not only the high diversity that can enchant your walks at the break or end of day inside the forest, but also their behavior, different calls, colors, and attractive displays. A few weeks ago, I had the great opportunity to go birding with a passionate local bird guide and after a very active morning of spotting numerous bird species (e.g. the band-tailed manakin, gilded barbet, golden-collared toucanet, cream-colored woodpecker, and more) along floodplain forest we reached a spot close to the oxbow lake “Cocha Lobo.” There was fluttering movement all around the understory, and a variety of songs and calls of at least 20 different bird species. Just looking at an area of only 10x10m, it was clear that there were several birds perching, foraging, and flying from one branch to the other, while also carefully sighting the proximity of any possible predator. This was definitely a mixed-species bird flock (hereafter called “flock”).

Flocks are two or more bird species that move together and forage for a period longer than 5 minutes. These associations are not only common in the Neotropics but all around the world. Despite the commonality of encountering a flock, it is still easy to wonder what exactly makes these species get together? Are there any advantages of these periodic formations? There are some possible hypotheses, but they all are based around an increased feeding efficiency and protection from predators. Most of these flock species are insectivorous, and although flock’s species composition might not always be the same, there are few species that are the core of the flock, known as “nuclear” or “leader” species. Whereas, “transient” or the “follower” species are those who join occasionally to receive some benefits from being part of the flock.

Sean Williams, PhD., studied the behavior and ecology of mixed-species bird flocks at Los Amigos. Here, at least a pair of Dusky-throated antshrikes (Thamnomanes ardesiacus) and a pair Long-winged antwrens (Myrmotherula longipennis) are the “leader” species, whereas the most common “followers” are the wedge-billed woodcreeper, the white-flanked antwren, the white-eyed antwren, and the red-crowned ant-tanager. While trying to study if followers were more attracted to antshrikes, antwrens or both, Sean found that more follower species were attracted to antshrike than antwren calls, supporting the idea that antshrikes provide greater defense from predators due to their farsighted vision and loud alarm calls that can rapidly prevent other flock members from the proximity of majestic raptors, soaring high in the sky. But if antwrens are also leader species, they should provide some sort of benefit to the flock. Indeed, they might not be able to give alarm calls but their nearsighted vision allows them to quickly detect gleanable insects in between leaves and branches. Given the inextricable link between antwrens and antshrikes in flocks, antwrens could have become a critical indicator of flock presence. Essentially meaning that where there are antwrens there must be antshrikes!

Watching a flock is quite a spectacle! The next time you encounter a loud, numerous group of birds flying from perch to perch in the forest understory, grab your binoculars and enjoy the complexity and splendor of these flying living beings, but be sure to acknowledge how many passionate human beings are working to understand them in their natural environment.

                              Plain xenops

                              Tawny-crowned greenlet

                              Dusky-throated antshrike


Behind a pair of binoculars there is always a passionate birder!

November 3, 2017  |  Author: Carla Mere

No doubt Peru is one of the most biologically and culturally rich countries in the world. Its immense biodiversity has made an important destination for many people that find the joy and happiness in nature that can only be found in places where there are few humans and the colors green and blue dominate the landscape. Among these nature lovers, there is a big group particularly attracted by colorful feathers, wings, and flying creatures: birds.

Birds are certainly attractive to human’s eyes, but rare, endemic or endangered birds are those heavily searched for by birdwatchers. These species are the reason why a birder will travel thousands of miles in order to see and appreciate some of these uncommon creatures in the world. Some birders’ aim is to add species to their lists, others encounter satisfaction on appreciating their beauty and surroundings, while others are fascinated by their natural history/ecology, migration patterns, and of course many are a mix of all or some of the descriptions above.

At Los Amigos, birding is a particular delight. Morning walks along terra firme habitat, contiguous to a patch of bamboo, and later on a walk to “Cocha Lobo” (an oxbow lake) will capture the concentration, ear and eyes of any birder. Every day there is a new encounter to behold! From a pair of blue and yellow macaws marking their dominance above the forest canopy, to the mournful whistles of the pavonine quetzal, to the primitive but always distinctive hoatzin! Undulated tinamous and a juvenile tiger heron are a few of the “resident visitors” in the Los Amigos backyard. With almost 600 bird species, there is no doubt that every day will have new discoveries and additions to birding lists.

Francis and Peter, two good friends from California, picked Los Amigos for their most recent birding trip this past August. After several decades of birding around the Neotropics, this was their first time in Amazonian lowlands. They acknowledged the high diversity of birds in the lowlands, but even though they were not aiming for a very long list they enjoyed ~330 species of birds (mostly seen but also a small percent heard). If you are a birder and are planning to visit Los Amigos this is one of Francis’ recommendations: “A word to the wise, however: while any length of visit here would be a delight, try not to be in a hurry. Even after a very enjoyable week here, we felt like we were just ready to begin, especially with the ant-phantoms of the bamboo”!

Francis and Peter, and their incredible local guide, Jose – all of their enthusiastic and friendly characters is dearly remembered here at Los Amigos!

A band of trumpeteers

November 1, 2017  |  Author: Emily Middendorf

You’re walking to Cocha Lobo when you suddenly hear a strange sound coming from the forest. It almost sounds like a child playing with a toy car, the “brrrrrrrrmmm” echoing from the distance with a sharp “kak”. It isn’t long before you spot the first Pale-winged trumpeter meandering along the floor, occasionally stopping to flip leaves on the forest floor.

Jeff Blincow_Pale Winged Trumpeter 2c
A pale-winged trumpter walking idly near one of the many trails available at Los Amigos. Photo credit: Jeff Blincow

The Pale-winged trumpeter have the rightfully chosen scientific name of Psophia leucoptera, which translates to one that makes loud noises (Psophia) and has white wings (leucoptera). These birds can be found at Los Amigos in both the floodplain and terra firme and commonly travel in flocks of 3-7 individuals. Although these birds are primarily ground dwelling, their nest is usually placed in a hollow tree trunk up to 11m high!

Besides these few facts, little else is known about the Pale-winged trumpeter, which makes future research so important.


A sneak peek at our Los Amigos Birding Lodge

October 27, 2017  |  Author: Carla Mere

In the 2015 Global Big Day, Los Amigos Birding Lodge registered the fifth highest number of bird species in the world (308) – and with good reason.  Not only do we have sharp-eyed bird guides stationed there, but Los Amigos is adjacent to the Los Amigos Conservation Concession and just east of world-famous Manu National Park, which means it is surrounded by millions of acres of protected wilderness.

The landscape is a mosaic of terrestrial and aquatic habitats, including palm swamps, bamboo thickets, oxbow lakes, and various types of flooded and non-flooded forests. Wildlife at Los Amigos is incredibly abundant, with nearly 600 bird species, such as Harpy Eagle, Spix’s and Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Razor-billed Curassow, Western Striolated Puffbird, Rufous-capped Nunlet, Pavonine Quetzal, Rufous-fronted Antthrush, and Pale-winged Trumpeter, as well as fascinating Amazonian mammals such as giant otters, spider monkeys and jaguars. A whopping 11 species of primate can be found in this area, such as the Tufted Capuchin (pictured below).

Los Amigos can be accessed via road and river from Puerto Maldonado, or via a lazy two-day boat ride from Villa Carmen. To experience the full Andes-to-Amazon adventure, many travelers hit all three of our lodges in a down-slope direction along Manu Road. After flying from Lima to Cusco, for example, a rewarding vacation starts at Wayqecha Cloud Forest Lodge (situated at 9,880 ft), heads down-slope to Villa Carmen Lodge (at 3,940 ft), and then winds its way down the Madre de Dios River to Los Amigos, with stops along the way to see a bustling clay lick (or collpa) featuring Scarlet, Red-and-green and Chestnut macaws. Sometimes, large mammals such as tapirs, capybaras, giant otters, and even jaguars can be spotted from the boat. Finally, after enjoying a filling, all-natural dinner at the lodge, Tawny-belied Screech-Owl, Spectacled, Crested and Mottled Owls can be listened for in the night.

Los Amigos features seven cabins with basic accommodations that start at $95 per person (double occupancy). Our staff can arrange a quality bird guide as well as all ground and boat transportation for your trip.

Your next wildlife adventure could be the best you ever had!  Book a stay at Los Amigos Birding Lodge.

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Life under bamboo thickets

October 27, 2017  |  Author: Carla Mere

 Have you ever walked through a bamboo patch? If not, let me warn you about possible scratches, torn shirts or pants, and several up and downs you are certain to encounter. It doesn’t seem very promising -perhaps not for us- but for other species this habitat can be paradise. If you ever found yourself in a bamboo patch, stop and listen all the different birds’ calls or songs. In Los Amigos (LA), a “pip’ip’ip-pip’ip” call of tiny flammulated pygmy-tyrants, a “TEW tew-tew-tew’tew’tew’tu’tutu” song of white-lined antbirds (pictured on the right), or a “tr-tr-tr-tr-tr-TR-TR-TR-TR-TR” of the rare Peruvian recurvebill are just a few of the many birds inhabiting this particular thorny habitat.

There are several bamboo patches (“pacales”) of the genus Guadua spp., mostly within terra firme habitats in LA. Guadua bamboo patches occupy tree gaps, usually of 30-200 m in diameter -sometimes larger. They are highly dominant due to their massive seed production and their long vegetative growth phase, which allows them to colonize canopy gaps and often generate monodominant stands, causing mechanical damage to trees and saplings and altering the growth of understory trees. Compared to other types of monodominant habitats (i.e. Mauritia flexuosa palms), bamboo patches survive around 30 years after a short flowering event, followed by death over several square kilometers. Bamboo having a relatively short-term period of life could be detrimental for particular bird species that have found in bamboo habitats all what they need to flourish. Among monodominant habitats, bamboo patches harbor a higher diversity of specialized insectivorous birds.

But, what makes bamboo thickets so special? The wide array of food resources, from forest floor arthropods to a variety of insects colonizing bamboo internodes, culms, hollow stems etc.; and different vegetation structures (i.e. stems, leaf, and light intensity) are key habitat attributes that make bamboo patches a productive hotspot with highly specialized insectivorous birds. During the long bamboo vegetative phase these birds have plenty food resources, but questions arise when trying to understand what happens to these birds when the bamboo dies. Insectivorous bamboo specialists may experience population decline; move to different habitats or to another suitable bamboo patch. Considering current increased rates of habitat loss and fragmentation, the decrease of insectivorous bird richness in bamboo die-off should be particularly studied. The lack of suitable bamboo patches along with the spatial and temporal fluctuation of bamboo patches could increase the risk of extinction of this group of birds who have found in the bamboo its home.

Bamboo 2

For more references:

 

Areta, J. I. and Cockle, K. L. 2012. A theoretical framework for understanding the ecology and conservation of bamboo-specialist birds. Journal of Ornithology, 152 (Suppl 1): S163-S170.

Cockle, K. L. and Areta, J. I. 2013. Specialization on bamboo by Neotropical birds. The Condor 115(2): 217-220.

Lebbin, D. J. 2007. Habitat specialization among Amazonian birds: why are there so many Guadua bamboo specialists? Ph.D. dissertation, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

Lebbin, D. J. 2013. Nestedness and patch size of bamboo-specialist bird communities in southeastern Peru. Condor 115: 230–236.

 


Los Amigos Big Day Record

October 21, 2017  |  Author: Carla Mere

Click the image above to access the full article featured in the October 2017 Birder’s Guide magazine. Sean Williams, PhD., one of LABO’s advisers, had a record-breaking Big Day in 2015 while staying at Los Amigos! Read his incredible article to find out more!