Sunday, January 16, 2011

Peru: Part 6 - Deeper Down Into the Cloud Forest

The mid elevation cloud forests (from approximately 1000 m ASL up to around 1800 m ASL) are particularly rich in species. The forest structures changes subtly with altitude (e.g. the trees typically get taller at lower elevations) and so, even though some species are found across a wide altitudinal belt, others have a very narrow altitudinal range. The range maps of many of the more specialised species look like a thin north/south line. The two images below give you a sense of this magnificent forest. In the first image you can see the famous Manu Road, carved out of the side of the steep mountain valley. Notice the humidity and the patches of midst. In the second you can see the lower section of the valley as it widens and just a hint of the Madre De Dios River at the bottom.

Some dazzling gems can be found in these elevations, so why not start this post with one of the most famous of this ecosystem – the Andean Cock-of-the Rock. The dazzling large red contigids make a cacophony when on the lek as they dance and squabble for position. Here are a series of photos of males strutting their stuff at one of the leks along the Manu Road. Two photos with flash and two without to give you a sense of how lighting work in the dark understorey of the tall forest.

The fruiteaters are suboscine relatives of the Cock-of-the-Rocks, a group of mostly green contingids, many with colourful head patterns that are adapted to feeding on fruit in the canopy. The coloud combination of a predominantly green body with marking and other colours in the head area is common among many tropical canopy-dwelling frugivores from several families (birds as diverse as barbets, parrots, fruit-pigeons, leafbirds, tanagers and others). This combination offers good camouflage since green birds can be incredible difficult to see in the leaves, while also leaving room for the vibrant colours often associated with sexual selection. This is the Scarlet-breasted Fruiteater.

The foliage-gleaners on the other hand seem to spend a lot of time proving dead leaves and are typically reddish brown in colour. Here a Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner demonstrates their versatility. The first photo shows a classic pose that illustrates well the GISS of this group, the second shot shows this bird utilizing their skill as acrobats to take advantage of nectar, a rich food source, while the last photo shows this birds having just pried an insect prey item from dead leaves.

The handsome Lined Antshrike mostly stays well hidden in the vegetation but this one popped up just long enough for a photo…

There are many flycatchers in the mid elevations! From this diminutive understorey-dwelling Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant...

To the large, canopy-dwelling Golden-crowned Flycatcher,

And almost everything in between, including the common and conspicuous and incredibly handsome Cinnamon Flycatcher of open areas and mostly midstorey and the subanopy

The elegant midstorey insectivore, Slaty-capped Flycatcher...

The stylish Streak-necked Flycatcher is also mostly found in the midstorey but, despite their name, they are a fruit-eater (yes, that’s right, some of the New World flycatchers don’t eat insects).

The Peruvian Tyrannulet is also primarily a frugivore and is most commonly found at the forest edge, though sometimes they move with mixed species flocks. That is only a handful of the flycatcher diversity found here!

Speaking of diversity… the mid elevations hold a stupefying array of tanagers and mixed species flocks great the observer with an explosion of colour. The following is a selection of some of the tanagers that move through the forest, often with multiple species foraging together in flocks that leave the observer scrambling to try and account for all present! We start with possibly the gaudiest of all large avian genera, the Tangara tanagers. Here is one of my favourites and a true Andean gem – the Golden Tanager!

From gold to blue – here is the aptly named Paradise Tanager

Why not gold and blue together – the Saffron-crowned Tanager

Somewhat similar but yet so distinct, just wait 'til you find a Flame-faced Tanager in your binoculars (you’ll be the one with the flaming face!) – two views of this stunner!

The stylish Blue-necked Tanager puts in a appearance...

Somewhere in the vast nebulous hue between blue and green, the Beryl-spangled Tanager...

And right alongside them, the Metallic-green Tanager (and you thought colourful birds were always easy to identify?)

Some of the Tanagra tanagers are more subtly coloured, like this Spotted Tanager

And some even make use of black as part of their unique uniform… apologies for the poor quality photo of this Silver-backed Tanager.

Of course, there are other genera of tanagers present in these flocks too. I never quite managed a good photo of the phenomenally vibrant Orange-eared Tanager.

The Vermillion Tanager looks superficially like some of the North American Piranga (e.g. Scarlet Tanager) but is a true tanager (not a cardinal like the Piranga).

A tanager by any other name… this Black-eared Hemispingus is also a tanager.

And this bird… well, this bird… yes, a tanager but unlike any other really… the classy Magpie Tanager. Here are two photo, the first showing the distinct shape and the second showing the plumage pattern up close and personal…

In addition to tanagers, there are other families that join mixed species flocks like this Slate-throated Redstart, a.k.a. Slate-throated Whitestart, a wood-warbler… If you have seen this species in Central America you may know that the Central American birds have red bellies whilst the Andean birds have yellow bellies.

And even when you don’t find a flock, there is colour to be found. This is the White-fronted Nunbird. The nunbirds and puffbirds are a uniquely Neotropical family of near-passerines related to woodpeckers.

Every time you stumble upon a trogon you are in for a treat – they always appear to have such vibrant colours… This is a Collared Trogon (yes, I used flash for this photo).

A real bonus find on the Manu Road for me was this female Lyre-tailed Nightjar brooding a large chick. She had chosen a straw roof for a nest-site and was covered from above by a corrugated piece of sheet metal. I took this photo in the pouring rain but she remained high and dry.

There are plenty of hummers too like the elegant Long-tailed Sylph. This is a juvenile male whose tail has not reached full length (see my older post on Colombian hummers for a look at an adult male).

And here is a Sapphire-spangled Emerald – a gem no doubt though the name is perhaps a touch of overkill.

And there are plenty of mammals in these forest too though they are harder to see. Here is a Common Wooly-Monkey taking a fistful of fruit.

I was elated to see the rare, elusive and nocturnal Andean Night-Monkey while owling one night…

Then imagine our amazement to find one of these seldom seen animals by day…

Just goes to show that you never know what you might see in the seemingly dark and impenetrable cloud forest…

Net we drop down into the Upper Tropical Zone and towards the Peruvian lowlands. That will be the last area we visit in this series – at least until I find a way to get into the Amazonian lowlands on a future trip.

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