• Diego Balbuena

Tree Top Manu III: Romero – The beautiful primary rainforest

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

Read the previous posts:Tree Top Manu I: The beginningTree Top Manu II: Diamante
Léalo en español: Tree Top Manu III: Romero

After a *short* 3 hour trip and a quick visit to Boca Manu to buy more supplies (biscuits, biscuits, biscuits), we made it into Manú National Park. In Limonal Control Post, which guards the entrance to the Park, we met Emilio, a park ranger that’s been working with SERNANP (the entity in charge of protected areas in Peru) for 20 years. He told us a lot about the Park, his experiences there and the Mashco-Piros, locally known as “calatos” or “nomoles”. “Calato” means naked in quechua, as these isolated groups are usually naked, and “nomole” means brother in Yine (Piro), an Arawak language spoken by some of the local communities in the eastern slope of the Andes.

On the way to the lodge, we saw some river turtles (Podocnemis sp.), caimans and capybaras (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris) on the riverbank of the Manú River. We arrived at a very fancy lodge after losing another team member in Boca Manu due to personal problems; nonetheless, with the arrival of Rodrigo and Gareth to Diamante, we were a full team again. We carried the equipment, luggage and food to the lobby and we were assigned a shared room with private bathrooms (this lodge, as the Manu Learning Centre, also belongs to CREES, one of the organizations in charge of the project). I arrived with high hopes of seeing the beautifully moustached emperor tamarins (Saguinus imperator), their groups visit the adjacent forest quite often, I got told. We went for a hike to get to know the area and quickly saw a group of spider monkeys (Ateles chamek) jumping from branch to branch through the forest canopy. That moment made me realize how different the primary forest was compared to the others we had visited before, where locals used to hunt or log, or they still do, and we couldn’t see big primates quite as often. That night, Andy, Ruth and Jenny went to the cocha (the quechua name for oxbow lake) looking to find the bizarre-looking Pipa pipa, a frog with a really peculiar look. It lives underwater and camouflages really well with the leaf litter, looking like another dead leaf. The next day they told us they saw two of them, as well as a  monkey frog (Phyllomedusa camba) with beautiful pitch-black eyes.

That night, as I was still jelly about that Pipa pipa they found, I joined the herp team to do some herp-box surveys, hoping to find something cool as they did the night before. Before leaving, Willy told us he had just seen a coral snake (Micrurus sp.) near the port. As expected, Andy stopped whatever he was doing, jumped over the tables, couches, and us, and went looking for it. At first glance, it appeared to be the fake coral Erythrolamprus aesculapii; however, due to some of its characteristics and behavior, and Andy’s expertise with snakes, he identified as the deadly Micrurus obscurus coral snake. Some of the rules of thumb to distinguish a coral that Andy mentioned were: its small black eyes, continuous rings across the width of the body, twisted tail when handled and no significant distinction between the bosy and the head, meaning that you can’t really see the neck. The next day, we split into two climbing teams hoping to set up the 10 arboreal cameras we had planned for Romero in 2 days. Jenny was in the other team, they told me that when she was up on a tree, a group of emperor tamarins were moving really close to her, and a hawk was flying around, looking hungry. That reminded me of that one time in Tambopata when a group of spider monkeys came to my tree, wondering what was I doing up there. We were able to set up 3 cameras that day, not a bad start. 7 cameras to go.

I went out into the field with Tasayco once again, looking for the stealthy Pipa, while Julio and Rodrigo surveyed elsewhere. We arrived at the cocha and managed to find 3 Pipa pipas! They were not as hard to find as I thought, but I only saw them whenever they moved as they really look like dead leaves. We also found a Phyllomedusa palliata, a bunch of Hypsiboas maculateralis and other frogs that were not as interesting. P. palliata had a brown back when I first saw and caught it, but it had turned green by the time we arrived at the lodge. In frogs, changes in color are common due to stress and possibly other factors.

palliata (2).jpg

Phyllomedusa palliata

Our last day in Romero went by as any other day in the jungle, at least for me. Andy, Lawrence and Garth saw a juvenile harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) while they looked for the tree they were going to climb. Due to its white plumage, it looked like a crested eagle (Morphnus guianensis); but, while flying away, it made a distinctive whistle, which helped Andy identify it as a juvenile harpy. Ruth, Jenny and I went to climb trees 5 and 7; as they are thin trees, it was better if they climbed them. We went by the cocha to release the Pipa pipa and an Erythrolamprus reginae. There, I realized how huge it was. I could see the other side, but not where it began or ended. While Jenny climbed, we saw a pair of black-collared hawks (Busarellus nigricollis) perch somewhere in the canopy, just to fly again and soar over the cocha. Their awkward call, which is the reason why they get called “old mamma” by some, sounded more like a duck’s call than a hawk’s. We could also hear the loud calls of the horned screamer (Anhima cornuta), and see a group of neotropical cormorants (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) and a pair of kingfishers (Megaceryle torquata) flying near the edge of the cocha.

ery reginae.jpg

Erythrolamprus reginae

We arrived at the lodge and got told that the emperor tamarins I has so hopeful to see, had been passing through 5 minutes ago, and they spent a while taking pictures of them. I couldn’t see them, so I was hoping on the last day (morning) before we left. We packed everything up, not to waste time in the morning, while the herp team went out looking for more frogs, lizards and caimans; they had a long road ahead of them, they were on their way to trees 16,17,18,19 and 20. Unfortunately, they had to cross a river through a dodgy log if they wanted to make it to the trees. As they weren’t adventurous enough (or stupid enough) to do it, they had to head back. On the way, though, they saw a beautiful peruvian rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria) and a bunch of different frogs. After measuring and weighing them, Julio went out into the field to release them, but a pair of big bright eyes made him feel uncomfortable; a jaguar was there. Feeling like an easy prey in the darkness of the jungle, he came straight back to the lodge to let everyone know. A group went back into the field to look for it, but there was no trace of it.

On the last morning in Romero we finished what was left from dinner; because, as usual, it was going to go bad. We organized the equipment, the chores and said bye to Ángel and Mario, who were in charge of the lodge. I was quite sad that I didn’t get to see a harpy eagle, a jaguar nor the emperor tamarins with their beautiful moustaches. But that’s the jungle, unlike nature documentaries where you get to see something crazy every 5 minutes.

We went back downriver through the Manú River and up on the Alto Madre de Dios, on our way to Shipetiari. We had a 5 hour journey ahead of us…

Read the next post: Tree Top Manu IV: Shipetiari- The adventure zone