Bird Photography - Peruvian Amazon Jungle
A trip to Peru is the dream for many travellers. Peru has miles and miles of desert coast line, impressive snow-covered mountain peaks, the lush and mysterious Amazon, and of course, more ancient ruins than one can possibly visit in one trip-including the world famous Machu Picchu.
Bird Photography in the Peruvian Amazon Jungle
Home to more species of birds than anywhere else in the world, Amazonia is bird central. Over 500 species of birds occur at most Amazonian sites and even more species have been recorded in the most bio diverse corners of this incredible forest. One such mega diversity spot is the Tambopata region of south-eastern Peru. Over 600 bird species have been found there including the likes of sombre, forest understory hummingbirds, glittering, jewel-like tanagers and cotingas that keep to the tall canopy, and shockingly gaudy macaws and parrots.
As with any forest habitat, dense vegetation and dim lighting conditions present challenges to bird photography but proper equipment, perseverance, and a good local guide can result in amazing shots. The following situations or habitats will also help you in getting excellent images of a large number of Amazonian bird species:
Canopy towers- These work wonders for getting amazing, close captures of birds that keep to the treetops. Many species even perch within twenty feet of the tower because they fail to recognize people as a threat when seen high above the forest floor. Mixed flocks of exotic looking birds such as nunbirds, jacamars, cuckoos, trogons, tanagers, flycatchers, barbets, foliage-gleaners and others occasionally pass near the tower for exciting shots that would be otherwise very tough to get.
Oxbow lakes- These aquatic habitats are great for capturing images of water birds such as Sungrebe, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Kingfishers, and Hoatzins, whereas their open nature also makes them an excellent sire for seeing raptors, flyover parrots and macaws, and a number of bird species that occur at the edge of the forest.
It takes a big field guide to adequately cover all 600 of the bird species that have occurred at Tambopata, Peru but here is some useful, basic information on some of the most emblematic and exciting bird species that occur in the area:
Macaws and Parrots
Tambopata, Peru is famous for the large numbers of macaws, parrots, parakeets, and parrotlets that live in its forests. Twenty species occur and most can be seen every morning when they visit the large clay lick at the Tambopata Research Centre. The birds eat clay from the river bluff to obtain minerals as well as remove toxins acquired from ingesting fruits and seeds. The six species of macaws are particularly impressive. Dozens and dozens of huge Blue and Gold, Red and Green, and Scarlet Macaws fill the air with their screams and brighten the surroundings with incredibly colourful plumages as they fly around the clay lick, visit it, and perch in trees above it. Hundreds of Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Mealy Parrots, White-eyed Parakeets, Blue-headed Parrots and other species also come to the clay lick in noisy flocks to make mornings here one of the globe's top avian spectacles.
One of the largest eagles in the world, the Harpy Eagle reigns as the top predator of the forest canopy and is often at the top of birders "most wanted" lists. Tambopata is a good place to see this rare bird and since an active nest can often be visited, it's also an excellent place to get photographs of it.
This strange bird has claws on its wings when young, eats leaves and ruminates like a cow, and locals call it "stink bird" because it sports a foul smell. They are also easy to see at oxbow lakes and make fantastic subjects because of their bizarre appearance.
These comical, colourful birds with huge bills and clown-like attitudes are common in Tambopata and easily seen from canopy towers and forest edge. Seven species occur here including the uncommon, exotic, and appropriately named Curl-crested Aracari.
Cotingas and manakins
Cotingas are, for the most part, brightly coloured birds of the forest canopy. The breathtaking plumage of Spangled and Plum-throated Cotingas literally shines like polished turquoise with patches of dark iridescent amethyst. Manakins are likewise beautiful and brighten up the understory with their shining black, red, yellow, and blue feathers.
A large number of these small, finch-like birds with glittering, jewel-like plumage occur at Tambopata. Some are easy to see and photograph at oxbow lakes and at forest edge while others are only found in the forest canopy. The Paradise Tanager in particular is fairly common and striking in appearance. Its mix of black, red, shining green, and purple plumage often earns it a nomination for being one of the most colourful birds in the world.
Nunbirds, jacamars, and motmots
All of these birds make for excellent photography subjects because they sit still for long periods of time, are fairly large, and have clown like, colourful bills (the nunbirds), glittering, jewel-like plumage (the jacamars), and come in beautiful shades of blue, green, and reddish-brown (the motmots).
Yet another group of oddly shaped, exotic looking birds with brightly coloured, iridescent plumage that like to sit still for long periods of time. There are seven species of trogons that can be seen in Tambopata, most of which are fairly common and fairly easy to photograph.
Caciques and Oropendolas
These are large, social bird species with striking black or russet coloration highlighted by bright yellow tails. Whether large flocks captured in flight against an evening sky, displaying birds photographed in flowering trees, or captured in their colonies of long, hanging nests, caciques and oropendolas are frequently seen and wonderful to photograph.
The incredible number and fantastic variety of bird species in Tambopata, Peru make this biodiversity hotspot a dream come true for birders and bird photographers. To make the most of your trip to Amazonian Peru, take a tour that provides the equipment and guides necessary for getting the type of incredible shots that such a trip of a lifetime deserves. Jeff Cremer is an award-winning travel photographer based in Lima, Peru www.PeruPhotoTours.com