Saffron Finches – Scientific name: Sicalis flaveola

Saffron Finch.Scientific name: Sicalis flaveola

I spent many months in the Amazon Rainforest over a number of years. On occasion I spent weeks in my lodge completely alone. I befriended a couple of pairs of Saffron Finches, who kept me company like friendly neighbours. The Male was yellow with a jaunty orange cap, his mate a dull, greenish brown.
The finches would visit every day. The morning visit was at around the same time just after sunrise. If I was in a room out of sight the male would perch on a branch on the tree closest to the lodge and call loudly until I came out. Then he would tweet, turning his head this way and that as I spoke to him.

I remember one morning my friend who had dropped in for a coffee and had seen my interaction with these birds called me from my bedroom to say the male bird was calling me. The locals of the forest found my ‘conversations’ with this little bird fascinating.
One afternoon I heard the male calling and calling to me. He was earlier then usual so I wasn’t expecting him. When I came out, I was surprised to see the female beside him, as she usually preferred to peck on the ground while he tweeted with me. She had nesting material in her beak. I swear they brought it to show me. I must admit to tears in my eyes.

It’s been a long while since I’ve been back to the forest, but I think about it often. And I think about the wildlife and especially the animals and birds I communicated with and my dear little Saffron.

I wrote a poem in their honour.


Why is the rainforest wet? Why does it rain in the rainforest? The Rain/Water Cycle.

Why is the rainforest wet? Why does it rain in the rainforest?

Visitors to my blog have reached me with the questions, ‘Why is the rainforest wet?’ Or ‘Why does it rain in the rainforest?’ The answer can be found in the Rain/Water Cycle.

The beginning of the rain cycle can be clearly seen early in the mornings in the Amazon Rainforest. It shows up in photos as a fine mist which covers the forest canopy.
The moisture filled air heats up as the sun rises causing the water caught in the tree canopies and the land and rivers to evaporate into the atmosphere.
As the air filled with water vapour rises it cools and forms clouds. The clouds hold and produce rain. The rain falls back on the land and rivers and trees. And the cycle continues.
The Rainforest is very humid. The air is saturated with moisture and because it is close to the Equator and therefore the sun, it is hot.
There is about 250cm per year of rainfall in a tropical rainforest.

Three photos show the forest very early in the morning, just as the sun begins to lighten the sky. They were taken at the end of the dry season, before the coming rains had filled the river. A moisture clad mist hangs over the forest. The fourth photo shows a view over the forest from the air, filled with moisture laden clouds.





New:Now scientific evidence that deforestation interrupts the rain cycle… No trees-No water..

Amazon Rainforest-home. Eden Lodge.

Eden Lodge. My home in the Amazon rainforest.

My home in the Amazon rainforest consisted of three spacious rooms and a wide verandah. There was space to sling my hammock and cook a meal and a spare room for visitors. Two of the rooms had flat, wooden ceilings, the other was open to the beautifully woven grass roof and, I’m afraid to say, rain drops.
It felt organic and had a strong smell of freshly cut wood. The surfaces of the verandah walls and doors were rough to the touch. It fitted well into the environment and was certainly a place where the wildlife felt at home.
Why Eden Lodge? Well, the multitude of animals, birds and insects I saw on a daily basis, along with the peace and quiet associated with the Garden of Eden, and of course the snakes, made Eden an obvious choice as a name for my home.
I loved it there. I felt at home the minute I arrived back, no matter how long I’d been away. The moment I stepped ashore, the forest wrapped around me like a pair of welcoming arms and I had a deep sense of belonging.

It took time to get the house in order on my return. Monduco, a friend and neighbour, who lived in a large canoe on the river, used the kitchen when I wasn’t there. He was not known for his cleaning skills. Everything had to be scrubbed clean and the area around the lodge had to be cleared.
But when all was in order again, I was able to sit in my rocking chair and watch the wildlife. When you’ve always lived in a busy city or town as I have, its sometimes difficult to wind down when away, but the journey to my forest home in planes, cars and boats began the detachment from that reality and by the time I reached Eden lodge I was ready to relax and totally immerse myself in the environment.
I didn’t move much when I was there. The humidity which made every pore in my skin wet and the heat which drained all energy, made exertion unpleasant. So I sat in my rocking chair or on the wooden harbour boards and watched and listened.
I found that I saw a great deal in that way. Rather than rushing around, digging sticks in holes, hauling myself up trees or diving headlong into rivers to unearth wildlife, my idea of bird or animal watching was to sit back and let it come to me. And, it worked.





Great Kiskadees..birds of the Amazon Rainforest, feeding on the remains of lunch left by Red-bellied Piranhas.

Great Kiskadees….Pitangus sulphuratus

Most often seen in the water fall area of my forest, but sometimes close to the lodge, were the Great Kiskadees. Always in small flocks, they were noisy, gregarious birds, with attractive chocolate-brown and sulphur-yellow plumage and masked eyes, like little bandits.
These fly-catchers are monogamous. The female lays two to four eggs in a round, ball-like nest built of sticks in a tree. The nest has a side entrance.
Kiskadees eat insects, fruit, tadpoles and fish. I’ve read that Kiskadees do not hunt in flocks, but like to hunt alone or in pairs. My observations told me otherwise.
On one occasion I sat in a canoe and watched as a small flock crept along a large branch that had fallen across a stream. They were agitated and noisy, staring at a commotion in the water below them. The disturbance was caused by a pyramid of Red-bellied Piranhas, turning and twisting their glimmering bodies, as they quickly disposed of whatever had become their prey.
The kiskadees waited above this melee. They seemed to be waiting for their share of the spoils. They appeared to be communicating with each other as they became more and more excited. Wisely, but impatiently, the kiskadees waited until the piranhas had their fill before diving straight into the water, not as deeply as kingfishers, but deep enough to take whatever scraps the piranhas left behind. Only then did they calm down.
In the first photo can be seen the splashing of the Red-bellied Piranhas as they ate their prey. Behind them on the large fallen branch the Great Kiskadees waited excitedly.




Reptiles of the Amazon Rainforest. A fifth of worlds reptiles at risk of extinction.

Research by the Zoological Society has found that a fifth of the worlds reptiles are at risk of extinction. The thought fills me with despair.
The Amazon Rainforest alone has three hundred and seventy eight species of reptiles, including varieties of; Caiman, lizards, geckos, skinks, tortoise, turtles and snakes. These fascinating creatures are necessary for the healthy ecology of a forest. They are an essential part of many food webs providing food for big predators as well as being hunters themselves.
Below are my personal observations and experiences.

Reptiles seen as food:
Yellow-headed sideneck turtle (Podocnemis unifilis):The turtle in the photo was being readied for the cooking pot. That is one of the problems with being a turtle or tortoise in the Amazon. Apparently these animals are tasty and that is leading to their demise in many areas. I frequently saw much larger turtles being openly killed, sold or prepared for the pot.
The Yellow-footed Tortoise( Chelonoidis denticulata): too, is at risk of disappearing thanks to local appetites.
There are laws in place to protect these animals, but the Amazon is a mighty huge place and trying to implement the law is virtually impossible. Only education and community awareness and self-regulation can work.

Reptiles-Lizards, at risk because of changes to their environment caused by deforestation and agriculture:
Northern Tegus and Ameiva lizards.(Tupinambis and Ameiva ameiva)
Already an Ameiva lizard, Ameiva Vittata, only found in a small area of Bolivia, is now thought to be extinct. Ameiva lizards are often beautiful. They come in a variety of colours, the aqua-blue and leaf-green variety are stunning. They are appropriately known as jungle runners. They race through the undergrowth at great speed when disturbed
I could hear them daily about the lodge area. A rustle of leaves, a movement of grasses and suddenly they would tear across the ground and disappear beneath a shrub. As they got used to me they became much calmer and would stop and listen when I spoke to them.
The brown and gold lizards, skinks, that spent a whole day copulating in my bedroom took no notice of me at all. Even when I lay in my hammock for an afternoon siesta and watched them, the male continued to cling to the leg of the female in an amorous embrace.
Their confidence in my harmlessness was not misplaced. I was only too happy to leave them in peace.
Geckos, Hemidactylus frenatus.
These tiny geckos used to stand stock still if noticed. Their bulbous eyes held a look of surprise. When their courage failed them they would shoot off into the shadows.
Amazon lizards are generally not harmful to people, but snakes all to often are. So I gave snakes a wide berth. I often saw Feu-de-lance. These deadly little snakes seemed to like the corner of my bedroom. They were quickly removed by locals, but their favourite corner was always the first thing I looked out for when I entered my room.
Most reptiles eat insects, fruit, vegetables, birds eggs, birds, worms, grubs and caterpillars. Caiman and snakes eat smaller animals. The Northern Tegu, a heavily muscled and handsome lizard, hung around like a dog after lunch waiting for meaty tit-bits from our plate.
I cannot imagine the rainforest without its many reptiles. It would appear barren. Devoid of life. It is a frightening vision.








Katydid insects.Tettigoniidae


Katydids. There are about two thousand species of katydids in the Amazon. They feed on flowers and fruit and are themselves a source of protein to many different kinds of animals.
Just read in Science News that Copiphora gorgonensis katydids have ears below their knees, which are smaller then a grain of rice. They have an eardrum on each leg. Its air pressure on these drums that produce vibrations, that are picked up by sensor cells which detect frequencies. They hear in a similar, but simpler way than humans. How fascinating is that.

Mud Dauber Wasps of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.Sceliphron caementarium.

Wasps of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. Hymenoptera.Sceliphron caementarium.

The Wasps Nest.

Tightly attached to one of the trees that formed an archway across the path to the river, was a large wasps nest. It was a big, bulbous nest, that throbbed with an ominous, humming noise.
Mr Monduco, my neighbour, along with a young nephew, decided its close proximity to the pathway made it particularly dangerous and it had to go. I protested, but they insisted.
They gathered together some twigs and branches and lit a fire below the nest, as I stood on the verandah watching. They then took a long branch each and at arms length and with some trepidation, set light to the nest. Having ensured it was burning, they looked at each other, nodded, threw the branches, turned and ran like hell. They hurtled up the stairs, ran past me at speed and flew into a room and shut the door and window shutters. I, shocked at this unexpected turn of events, quickly followed their example.
They looked scared, but hid it by laying back against sacks of manioc, laughing and teasing each other, and frequently checking through a crack in the window to see what was happening outside.
The nest glowed orange as it burnt and soon the papery construction began to fall apart. The few wasps that hadn’t been trapped inside the nest hung around for only a short while, before flying off.
The next day Monduco pointed to a new nest being built high in one of the tall trees. This one they left alone.
The wasps of the rainforest not only built nests in trees, but also single cells made of clay, which they attached to anything that didn’t move: clothing, shopping bags, apples, door handles etc. They also built long cell structures that when attached together looked like flutes. Some built cells that they piled one above the other.
The colouring of these wasps is usually yellow and black, but I did see one morning a beautiful metallic blue wasp fall from a roof timber. It landed at my feet clutching a black spider.
Wasps, like all insects, are a part of life in the forest. Most are not aggressive, but I did get stung on a number of occasions with varying degrees of swelling and discomfort. Strangely it was the smallest wasps that caused me the most trouble, blowing my hand up like a flaming red, cows udder.
A small price to pay for my extraordinary adventure into their territory.
Thanks to Paul of Garden Guests, I now know the wasp in the first photo is a Mud Dauber Wasp, Sceliphron caementarium. It is a non-aggressive wasp,that builds cells out of clay, either singly, or in a flute-like or pipe-like structure.






Cream-coloured Woodpeckers (Celeus Flavus) Amazon Rainforest Birds.

Cream-coloured Woodpeckers ( Celeus Flavus )

These woodpeckers photographed near the lodge were more yellow than cream, with rufous-brown wings and black tails. They had an erect yellow crest on the back of their heads and the males had a crimson patch on the side of their face. Their calls sounded like laughter.
I watched one afternoon as a lone Cream-coloured Woodpecker pulled long strips of leaf matter from a palm, possibly to get at the insects underneath, perhaps an ants nest. It persisted in this activity for quite some time, so it was getting its fill of something high up in the tall palm. Their diet normally consists of invertebrates, fruit and seeds.
Cream-coloured Woodpeckers have strong pair bonds. They perch close together. The female lays three eggs, possibly in tree hollows and both birds feed their young.

I noticed very early in my new hobby of birdwatching that birds often have strong pair bonds. When sitting by the harbour I would watch as the Blue-headed Green Parrots and the Toco or Yellow-ridged Toucans flew overhead. Always in pairs, even within a flock.
It saddens me to see parrots, in particular, in pet shops, alone in cages or chained to perches. They are social birds, as most birds are. They like the company of their own kind. Most live in pairs or flocks. Human companionship is no substitute for a feathered partner.




Dogs, Rabies and Foot-tunnelling Ticks.

Dogs, Rabies and Foot-Tunnelling Ticks.

I got bitten by a tick that had fallen from the fur of a little dog onto the verandah. I walked on the boards in bare feet, so had picked it up after the dogs visit. The tick had burrowed into my heel, contentedly setting up home.
I was on my way back to the UK, so was flying and the pressure on the planes caused the wound to swell. It was very uncomfortable. On my return I immediately limped to my GP, who was delighted to have something very different to deal with.
He put my heel up on his lap and cut into the swelling with a scalpel, draining out the poison and digging about to ensure nothing of the tick was left, while I grit my teeth and mused on my love of animals. It cleared up pretty quickly after that, but I kept well away from dogs when I returned to Brazil.
I felt pity for them, but as dogs carry rabies in Brazil, as well as ticks and fleas, this caution was necessary.

The dogs I saw in the city of Manaus or town of Manacapuru were often thin and bony with bald, sore areas in their matted fur and could often be seen limping. I saw few strays on the streets, but those I did see were in this condition. I saw not one well cared for, well fed dog being taken for a walk by a proud owner. The reason for this, I believe, is because dogs are seen as animals, able to look after themselves, and not as pets to be pampered or fed with tins of thick meat that locals can’t afford for themselves.
People in the forest sometimes keep dogs as guards, to bark at strangers or warn off prowling animals and snakes. They are often left to find their own food or are given scraps from the table. They will eat absolutely anything……except corned beef and tinned peas. Even people who appear to be quite fond of their dogs are happy to go off for weeks at a time and leave them to fend for themselves in the forest.



Twitchers, Bird Watchers.

14th November 2012.
I always thought Twitchers were a born breed, a bit odd, now I am one of them, sort of. I came to bird watching late in life. Living in the Amazon Rainforest for any length of time you become a twitcher by default. Rare and unusual birds fall into your lap, or more likely, perch on a nearby tree daily.
I was told by Amazon rainforest guides that twitchers come complete with camouflage gear, heavy boots, expensive equipment and long lists of birds. I came to the task with pink or blue floral pyjamas, flip flops, and a little digital camera. And, I wouldn’t dream of having a list. Whatever I see is a blessing. I don’t creep up on the birds either. Instead I talk to them softly and greet them with delight.
In this way I have actually befriended birds. Saffron finches visited daily, as did Silver-beaked Tanagers, Anis, Yellow-Rumped Caciques and one of my favourites, a gorgeous Aracari. A Striated Heron, several Ringed Kingfishers and Wattle-necked Vultures shared the harbour side with me.
The pleasure I get from bird watching is to see the interaction between the birds, and between them and their environment. My guide friends tells me that once the twitchers have ticked off the bird and photographed it, they immediately want to go on to the next bird on their list. Not all of them, of course, but the guides found it difficult to understand what actual pleasure some got from the encounter. The habitat, habits, and characteristics of the bird held little interest for them.
Just read Bill Oddies new blog…with similar views. ..Real Birdwatching
I sometimes wonder how many people who call themselves birdwatchers actually “watch“ the birds they see. They “tick them off”, yes, but do they really study their behaviour, their displays, their breeding routines, or indeed their feeding habits? The truth is that there are hundreds – no, millions – of people who would not call themselves real birdwatchers but who probably know more about the habits of some species than many of the so called experts. There are few better places to study bird behaviour than in your garden or backyard. Most people who put up feeders and nest boxes would admit that they also spend ages gazing out of the window. They see the tits, finches, robins and so on, and they become involved in their daily and yearly lives. Well, “that’s“ what I call bird watching!
Bill Oddie