• Diego Balbuena

Tree Top Manu II: Diamante [English]

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

Read the previous post: Tree Top Manu I: The beginning
Léalo en español: Tree Top Manu II: Diamante

05/05/16 – 13/05/16

On a Thursday, the 5th of May, we left the MLC on our way to a lodge near the Native Community of Diamante at around 8 a.m. On out way, we stopped in a beach to eat lunch and us the toilet (pee on a stream). Around that stream, I saw the tracks of a small cat, probably an ocelot. As we were in a rush, I couldn’t take any pictures. After the break, we stopped again in Boca Manu to buy some supplies: biscuits, bread, cheese, snacks, etc. We crossed the union of two main rivers, the Alto Madre de Dios River and the Manú River, each of a different color, as they come from different areas and carry different types sediments. We arrived at the lodge at around 2 p.m., after we got stranded right in front of the beach. We had to climb down the boat and push it to deeper waters.


Stranded in front of the lodge’s beach. Photo: Andrew Whitworth

The hard work started on the second day. We were going to climb 3 trees to set up arboreal camera traps, but we could only manage to do 2, due to the time, as on the first tree I spent quite a long time trying to convince the guys on the ground that the branch I chose was the right one and my legs went numb. I had to climb back down and Jenny climbed afterwards, so she realized as well that was the best branch. That was a special tree, as a harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) was captured on last year’s camera trap. Before we went to the next tree, Andy had gone there to shoot the line we were going to use to climb; he told us he might had seen two bush dogs (Speothos venaticus), a red one followed by a smaller silver-colored one, which might be a juvenile. I told him they were just two small dogs from the community. After we had placed 2 out of 3 cameras, we finished a good day eating beans with potatoes and eggplant, and taking some photos of a horned frog (Ceratophrys cornuta) Lawrence and Julio found when they were leaving on a night survey. I’ve always wanted to see one, especially the green morph which camouflages so well with the leaf litter of the forest floor.


Ceratophrys cornuta

The next morning I went into the living room to check out what the guys brought back from the herp-box. There were two snakes and some cool frogs. Jenny had found a young Clelia clelia, a colubrid that eats venomous snakes, just outside of the kitchen. From the herp-box, the guys brought an Oxyrhopus melanogeny, a fake coral snake, and a Phyllomedusa tomopterna, a beautiful barred monkey frog. After taking some pictures of them, Tasayco and I went into the forest to check the butterfly traps, and we saw so much more! First, two lizards that were new to the species list (Alopoglossus angulatus and Kenthropys palviceps), followed by a red squirrel (Sciurus sp., probably S. spadiceus), a turtle (Phrynops cf. raniceps) new to the list as well, and a beautiful blue Morpho achilles that was caught in one trap.

That night, after releasing a blue-lipped treelizard (Plica umbra), I went back into the field with Tasayco for a herp-box. Nothing that night felt right, we didn’t know the way but we had a GPS (but forgot the extra batteries), we could see lightnings on the horizon and hear some thunders possibly coming our way. We left the lodge later than programmed as we had to wait for the potatoes and carrots in the soup to cook. Even with a GPS the way was not clear, as some new trails had been opened due to treefalls and the tracks were different than last year’s. On the way, Tasayco spotted a snake slithering on a shrub; it was an amazon tree boa (Corallus hortulanus). We kept going on our way to the last tree of the main trail, listening to thunder and what sounded like aircrafts in the sky. The GPS ran out of battery on the middle of the way, just to make things better, around a tree labeled as 6 (we were looking for tree number 10, and each tree is separated by at least 250m; we were still far). There was no way we would make it to tree 10, so we decided to survey around tree 6. So now we had to look for tree number 6, which we never found but we knew we were really close so we surveyed anyways. We literally walked in circles to find the way there, as we walked on a trailed to the east and stumbled upon the trail again on the west side. We didn’t find anything exciting during the survey, but I almost step on a nest covered by the grass; probably a snake’s according to Andy. On our way back the lightnings lit up earth and sky and it looked like daytime for less than a second, enough to see the whole airstrip. So, we stayed around it for a while enjoying the thunderstorm before the rain arrived, and that’s how the night ended.

Before going out on the field to climb some trees, we had to get the whole equipment ready: cameras, camera straps, compass, measuring tape, knife, digital camera, climbing equiptment, vegetation mapping equipment, binoculars, lunch, water, snacks (oh the snacks…). But, as always, we forgot something. Like the machete, the mosquito net… or something else. One day I left the camera straps in the lodge and I had to bolt my way back through 2 km of muddy rainforest trails, there and back. We didn’t realized we could have used the white string we use to leave the climbing lines on the trees (another thing I just forgot on the list). If we didn’t screw up with the climbing equipment, it was something else, like losing the GPS (and another thing…); one day we forgot a few individuals we collected on the field in plastic bags on a trail, including this extremely pissed off horned forest dragon (Enyalioides palpebralis) that I found during a fruit transect.


Enyalioides palpebralis

We had less and less time in Diamante, and the time wasn’t enough to run all the surveys. We had lost one day of butterfly data we had to do again, so we couldn’t lose any more time. Time wasn’t the only problem, the mosquitoes, sweat bees, the heat, the storms, diseases, the mud… We tried to fight them all, but even a small puddle formed after a storm could bring us down… literally.


Putting myself together after an involuntary dive . Foto: Diego Sanchez Q.


Whenever you are working with a community, you must learn about their culture. After Diamante we were heading to Romero, located in a primary forest (old, with no significant impact) inside the Manú National Park, followed by Shipetiari. Last year, there was an incident in Shipetieri with the uncontacted Mascho Piros. Nyamtatka nomole means “I’m leaving, brother” in Yine, something to keep in mind in case we find them on the trails. Their dialect is a variation of Yine, and it’s only spoken by them. Segundo, the local in charge of the lodge, taught us some words and phrases in Machiguenga and Yine that might help us in case we encounter a group of Mashcos or nomoles.

As we had lost a member before Diamante and another one as about to leave before going to Romero, 2 new members arrived from the MLC on the last night with Willy and Santiago, the boat drivers. Gareth and Rodrigo, the new Peruvian intern came to complete the team until we finished the rest of the sites.

We left Diamante with 2 herp-box groups to finish all the surveys, and a last butterfly trap check. The first herp-box group (Ruth and Tasayco) went all the way through the airstrip to survey the furthest trees, while Jenny and I went through the main trail. On our way, we found so many different frogs, salamanders and lizards, some I had never seen before and others were new to the species list. We found even more during the surveys!

In areas affected by illegal logging, mining and hunting (keeping in mind that loggers and miners also hunt), the populations of large primates like howler monekys (Alouatta spp.), spider monkeys (Ateles spp.) and woolly monkeys (Lagothrix spp.) decrease significantly, sometimes even to local extinction. These large monkeys are relatively easy to find and hunt, so they are a good source of meat. Andy and Lawrence, during the last avian survey, saw a group of howler monkeys (Alouatta sara) in this hunted and logged forest; a rare and encouraging sighting! The low number of large primates leaves the forest with a bigger abundance of fruits for smaller, non-hunted primates, like the squirrel monkeys (Saimiri spp.), titi monkeys (Callicebus spp.), tamarins (Saguinus spp.) and capuchins (Cebus spp.; Sapajus spp.), so it’s easier to see them in high impacted areas of the rainforest.

After the butterfly group arrived on the last morning, we finished moving all the equipment to the boat to go on our way to Romero. I had really high hopes for this  next site, as I’d always wanted to go to the Manú National Park, even though we were only going to spend 3 days there. Let me tell we we saw some great species there, some I didn’t expect and other I didn’t knew existed, and I’m going to tell you about it on my next blog post.

Stay tuned!

Read the next entries Tree Top Manu III: Romero – Tree Top Manu IV: Shipetiari- The adventure zone

#Ecology #Mammals #Amazon #CameraTrapping #Herpetofauna #Arboreal #TreeTopManu #Rainforest