Toucans of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. Toco & Yellow-ridged Toucans and Chestnut-eared Aracari.

Toucans – Scientific name: Ramphastidae from the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.
Toco Toucan – Scientific name: Ramphastos toco
Yellow-ridged Toucan – Scientific name: Ramphastos vitellinus
Chestnut-eared Aracari – Scientific name : Pteroglossus castanotis

Every morning I would see the Toucans fly from their roosting trees to their feeding grounds. They flew in small flocks and often in pairs. Their flight was undulating, almost as if their bills were too large and heavy for them. They would glide, fall away from the others and then furiously flap their small wings to gain height and catch up.
Their diet consisted of fruit, insects, small animals and sometimes the small chicks and eggs of other birds. Their huge beaks came in useful to reach fruit hanging at the end of long branches. Despite their size, the beaks were very light, with a hollow structure.
Toucans nest in cavities in trees, often those made by woodpeckers.
All day I could hear the Toco or Yellow-ridged Toucans on a high tree. Their mournful cry could be heard echoing over the tree canopy.
The Toco had a black body,a bright orange bill, orange feathering around the eyes and a white throat. The Yellow-ridged Toucan also had a black body with a yellowish to white throat, a black beak with yellow and blue markings and blue feathering around the black eyes.
The Toco and Yellow-ridged Toucans rarely came close to the lodge, but perched high up in the canopy. The Chestnut-eared Aracari was, however, a daily visitor. perching close by the lodge. it made its presence known by its raucous call. The Aracari is smaller than the Toco and Yellow-Ridged Toucans, but of the same family. It is black with a yellow breast, slashed with a red band and red feathers above its tail. It too had a large beak with serrated edges.
It was a friendly, cheeky bird unafraid of me on my verandah enjoying its visits.
The first photo shows a Yellow-ridged Toucan from a distance, which was the way I usually saw them. The next two photos are of a Toco Toucan. The next of the Aracari. Note the serrated edges of the bill.

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Advice to Travellers to the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. Trip essentials and tips.

Advice to Travellers to the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. A brief description of trip essentials and tips, a personal view based on experience.

On my first couple of trips to the rainforest I wore day and night, long-legged combat trousers, long sleeved shirts, walking boots and caps with wide brims. I was hot and sweaty and uncomfortable..
On my last trips into the forest I wore as little as possible. Combats, yes always comfy, but worn with vest tops and flip flops, unless trekking deeply into the forest when I was more careful and covered up.
Certainly long sleeved cotton tops and shirts are needed in the evenings and early mornings, to discourage mosquitoes, ditto long legged cotton trousers or skirts, but I found during the day they weren’t so essential.
It does though depend on how attractive you are to mosquitoes. Some people attract them like sticky paper.
A light rain jacket is a good buy. It often rains, sometimes daily, as in the wet season and fast boat transfers to the Amazon lodges can be quite cold, windy and wet, so a raincoat is useful. Although the sun dries you out quickly, it’s best to avoid the drenching if you can.
Hats with brims, shading from the sometimes intense sun, are indispensable: cotton caps, straw hats, sun visors…plus a good pair of sunglasses.
People on tours will be advised to wear walking boots within the forest, or will be provided with a pair of Wellingtons. Wellies are perfect to protect against snake and scorpion bites, as they protect the whole leg. Make sure the guide has checked inside the boot. I have found a tiny, but poisonous, pink frog in the toe of an old boot.
Keep all bags: rucksacks, cases, make-up bags, closed and zipped up when not in use. Spiders, snakes and various insects are inclined to crawl in if they find an open bag. Shake and check clothes that have been hung up for the same reason.

Ladies will find that make-up rarely stays put in the high humidity. A touch of moisturiser day and night is all I used and sun protection, especially on nose, when in the open as in canoes and boats.
I gave up trying to straighten or fuss with my hair within days. A good brushing and tying it back, if longish, is all you can do to look good. Frizz is impossible to contend with in the heat, so I just shrugged my shoulders and got used to it.

Hotels usually have air conditioning, which cools the room and deters mosquitoes. It is often noisy, but necessary. Hammocks in hotels usually come with mosquito nets, an essential in the forest.
Some tributaries of the Amazon have no or few mosquitoes, so it depends on where you go. I rarely used insect repellant, as I didn’t seem to attract mosquitoes, but for most people Deet is the insect repellant of choice for short trips, although recent research has shown the mosquitoes have wizened up to it, so Malaria prevention is a must in the form of medication. I found the more expensive Malaria prevention had few side effects. The least expensive, left me in a deep depression every afternoon and I had to stop taking it.

Drinkable water always comes out of plastic bottles. Don’t ever drink water from a hotel tap or Amazon river. When my water supplies became short, I boiled clear stream water, something few visiting the Amazon would have to do.
Piping hot food is generally safe, free from bugs. Avoid ice-cream and ice-cubes. Peel fruit. Avoid salads which may have been washed in contaminated water.
Remember the heat multiplies the effects of alcohol and getting tipsy will be dangerous in the forest, where you need your wits about you, so don’t do it.

Never, ever, think you can walk into the forest alone. Even locals can get lost. Always take an experienced guide.
Swimming in rivers is safe only when the guide says so. Remember there are venomous Sting-rays, Anacondas, Caiman and fish with fierce reputations to contend with. With that in mind, do not urinate in the water. A tiny fish known for travelling upstream and into urinary tracts, is one you don’t want to encourage!
Do not touch or pet, dogs or cats. They may have rabies and many have ticks. In fact, unless your guide gives you the nod, do not touch any animal, insect or frog. Many use poison as protection and can cause fevers, swellings and even death.

Take a torch. Electricity often fails at inconvenient times and is sometimes turned off in the middle of the night in lodges.

Finally prepare before you leave home with all the necessary vaccinations and ensure you have a good first aid kit, including sterile needles, painkillers, antiseptic cream and wipes, insect bite cream, plasters, bandages, sterile dressings and tummy upset powders. A first-aid kit like this, should be taken on all journeys, not just to the Amazon. I can’t remember the amount of times I have had to use the contents of my kit for myself and others on my travels.

These are my personal tips based on years of experience, but please ask your doctor for further advice, especially about vaccinations like Yellow Fever and possibly Rabies, and definitely Malaria protection. Read the advice given by travel companies and in good travel books.

And then relax……the Rainforest is a marvellous place, the experience will be one you will never forget. It will remain in your heart forever.

The photos show a frog on my T-shirt, a rather large spider on my combat trousers and the tiny pink, poisonous frog found in an old boot.

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Manacapuru River, tributary of the Amazon. My harbour, river and fishes.

The River, the Harbour and Fishes. Manacapuru Lago, tributary of the Amazon River.

When the river was high during the wet season, late November to May, I would sit on the little wooden harbour platform, my feet in the water to keep cool. Bird watching was my usual occupation, but the water lapping my feet often had distractions.
The river water was coffee coloured due to sediment from the river banks, but it was possible to see through the top few centimetres which remained clear.
Shoals of small to medium size fish lived in the river close to the lodge. One daily visitor was a pipe shaped fish. Long, slim, almost transparent, with a neon stripe along its body to the tip of its nose. The larger males had a red nose. Sometimes this fish would jump from the water and skim along the surface, moving backwards on its tail.
Silver scaled Discus and harlequin patterned or striped fish were also regular visitors and, of course, Piranhas. Red-bellied Piranhas tended to be a problem only in the dry season, when food was scarce. The Gold, Silver and Black Piranhas were harmless. I bathed in the river daily without any harm.
The river water was often warm, bath temperature, especially after several days without rain. I would slide off the platform and sink into the water surrounded by fishes. It seemed the most natural thing to do in the heat. The thought of losing a limb or worse never entered my head.

Several Black Caiman lived close to the harbour. Their eyes could be picked out by torchlight in the evenings. During the day they rested, or that’s what I told myself. I saw them only the one time during the day, gliding past in the early morning. They were returning to their bank for a lay-in after their nights exertions and I kept my distance, depriving them of an English breakfast, until they settled.
Black Caiman are mainly fish or bird eaters, so unlikely to attack humans, but I do know of an attack on a local man and his young son. They accidentally rammed their canoe into the large caiman as he lay on the river bank, which angered him. The caiman killed them and was in turn killed by locals.

The only frog that I saw close to the harbour area was an incredible, minute, glass frog. Perfectly formed, the size of my smallest fingernail with black pinhead eyes, it took my breath away. I tried to scoop it up in the lid of a bottle so that I could take it to the lodge to photograph, but it was minute and difficult to catch. I thought I had caught it, but when I poured out the grey mud from the bottle lid on to the table, the tiny creature was not there.
During the wet season silver grey Bottle-Nosed Dolphins could be seen swimming and jumping in the waters, just meters away from the harbour. An especially heart lifting sight. They often had youngsters with them. I believe they bred in the estuary, a safer and quieter place than the busy main water way.
Every day I saw something new and different while sitting on the misshapen, wooden boards of my little harbour deck. If I shut my eyes I am back there and I can feel my muscles relaxing and my breathing slow.

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Northern Tegu and Ameiva Lizards versus Silver-beaked Tanagers.(Ramphocelus carbo..Tupinambis and Ameiva Ameiva)

Nesting in the dragons mouth. Silver-beaked Tanagers..Northern Tegus and Ameiva lizards (Ramphocelus carbo..Tupinambis and Ameiva Ameiva)

Sunrise would see me sitting in my rocking chair on the verandah of my Amazon rainforest home, a Brazilian black coffee in one hand, a slice of honey and manioc cake in the other, camera on lap.
I waited to see what new discoveries would present themselves and never was I disappointed.
This particular morning it was the Silver- beaked Tanagers who would surprise me.
Close to the lodge, just a few meters away was a low, thick bush, surrounded by tall grasses. The tanagers decided to make a nest there.
The tanagers were regular visitors around the lodge. I saw them several times a day. There were five or six females and a male. The male was smartly feathered, with smooth black plumage and a contrasting silver beak. The females were slightly bigger, with reddish brown, untidy plumage.
The male often perched above the females and called with a high pitched peep, as loud as his little body would let him.
I had noticed him acting differently as the dry season came to an end. He would peep, peep, peep and shake his feathers vigorously as he did.
On this morning I could see why. A mate had been attracted and they were nesting. The female seemed to be doing all the work making a cup shaped nest, while the male perched above peeping in encouragement.
There was a problem though. Beneath the chosen bush two species of lizard crept. The Northern Tegu and the Ameiva. It seemed the tanagers were laying their eggs straight into the dragons mouth
The Northern Tegu is a rich brown and black striped lizard, heavily muscled and handsome. The much smaller Ameiva lizard is a beautiful lizard, turquoise blue and pale green. Both equally able to crush and eat the two eggs laid by the tanagers.
The nest was finished over the next few days and the little eggs laid, but sadly I had to leave before seeing the final outcome. Silver-beaked Tanagers often nest in low bushes so must be aware of the dangers, it would have been interesting to see how they protected their tiny clutch.

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Amazon Rainforest Climate. Wet Season in the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.

The Wet Season (from diary)

The wet season starts at the end of November and continues until May. Rain usually falls in the morning, light showers that cool the air, but quite often a great storm will rage through the forest, lasting for hours.
During the storms, walls of heavy rain move across the forest, saturating everything in their path. Thunder crashes above with such force the ground trembles. The noise must be the loudest natural sound on earth. Despite being warned by lightening of the impending boom and rumble, it always made me jump.
High winds bend and shake the trees and leaves, twigs and branches are thrown through the air. The lodge verandah, when finally the storm ends, is covered with broken twigs, leaves, battered insects and other bits of natures debris. The wooden boards shone as if freshly varnished. The grass roof, rearranged by the storm, let in rays of sunlight………
The rains change the views from the lodge dramatically. Gone are the vast meadows of grasses and wild flowers. Instead stretching to the river mouth is now gleaming, deep water. Deep enough for the dolphins to swim and breed in, deep enough for the caiman and deep enough for the return of lunch. No longer do we have to eat dried up, smelly carcasses, instead the dish is plump and tasty. Yes!
Osprey return to winter in the heat of the forest and sit high on tree tops. Herons and kingfishers return to fish closer to shore on fallen branches.
The rain is welcome, bringing with it fresh water, food and enough water to row the canoes from shore to shore, so much nicer than slurping through the thick, clinging, river bed, mud.
The wet season is back, all is well in the forest.
The first photo shows view from lodge in wet season. The next two photos show same view in dry season. The last photo is of an Osprey and a Heron, happily fishing together.

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Plastic Pollution in the Amazon Rainforest & Rivers, Brazil. Part One.

Plastic Pollution in the Amazon Rainforest & Rivers, Lake Manacapuru, Brazil. Part One.

The beautiful waterfall area is used by people from the local town, particularly when I am not there, as a picnic and recreational area.
On one occasion I went there with some friends for a picnic. The first thing I noticed as we rowed our canoes close to the area was silence. The birds had disappeared from the entrance to the waterfall and all along the stream.
I could hear, long before reaching the area, that an afternoon party was in full flow. Loud music blasted from large loudspeakers. Young people hollered, sung and laughed and screamed loudly, chasing each other through the trees and scarring the trunks of trees with deep knife slashes. Families with children picnicked along the shore of the river, disposing of their waste under bushes.
My friends and I walked through the stream and along the banks, picking up the rubbish that had been discarded, including: broken glass alcohol bottles; open, razor sharp lidded, cans; coloured plastic bags; polystyrene food containers; cellophane and metallic coloured sweet wrappers and used nappies. We filled the bottom of two canoes with the rubbish and this was only one days pollution.

One thing that surprised me on my visits to my home in the rainforest, was the amount of rubbish you see floating in the rivers. Plastic is a particular problem. It is sad to find what initially looks like a pristine, untouched, stretch of primary forest or fast flowing river and see, bobbing in the water or washed up on banks, or tangled around roots and branches – gaudy plastic strips, bags and bottles. We, travelling in canoes, always scooped them up, but there were always plenty more pieces of rubbish to take their place.
Plastic pollution is becoming a big problem in many beautiful parts of the world, in rivers and on seas, forming islands of imperishable waste. Sadly parts of the magnificent Amazon rainforest and river are fast becoming polluted, uninhabitable and barren too.
We, in the west, have made mistakes, polluted our rivers and seas and countryside and are now trying to repair the damage. I wish Brazilians would learn from our mistakes and not commit the same ones. They have a chance to rub our faces in our stupidity and show us how it is done. They have a wonderful rainforest, something truly special and unique. It is not so very hard to keep it that way, is it ?
The photo is of one of the two canoes we filled with rubbish from the waterfall area. One weekends rubbish.

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Pollution in the Amazon Rainforest & Rivers, Brazil. Part Two.

Pollution in the Amazon Rainforest and rivers, Brazil. Part Two.

A glimpse into one tiny nook of the UK’s vast ocean depths uncovered two drink cans, one bottle, and a rusty food tin http://gu.com/p/3e3xv/tw This, to me, horrifying discovery made me think further about pollution.

Despite my rainforest being a days canoe ride from a town and the forest being quite isolated, I still had to put up with pollution floating in with the river. It also came from the neighbouring properties many miles away and from supplies brought in from workmen on my lodge.
I had noticed that when locals finished with something; a torch battery, a piece of ragged clothing, an empty water bottle, bent nails, torn plastic bags etc, they just chucked them. They would throw them into the undergrowth. Out of sight, out of mind.
When the rivers rose in the wet season, the discarded rubbish floated up from the soil and ended up in uncontaminated rivers and streams and onto pristine river banks.
In the dry season tree branches could often be seen hung with gaudy coloured strips of plastic left by the receding waters.
With my poor Portugese I tried to explain to locals how batteries are poisonous to the rivers and therefore to the fish they ate daily. I also tried to explain about plastic pollution and its effect on wildlife and the environment. I insisted that nothing got thrown in my forest, but got put in bags to be disposed of properly.
And I spent a great deal of time walking around the shores of the river picking up litter that had floated ashore.
The contamination of the rivers by mining and industry is also a big problem in some areas. The use of chemicals causing permanent damage to the environment.

I walk around the streets of the sea-side town I live in, in the UK, and see the same careless throwing of rubbish onto the roads and pavements and bobbing on the sea surface.
And pollution from passing ships, as happened recently, when a discharge of engine oil killed and contaminated hundreds of birds, is a constant problem with the heavy maritime traffic that passes our coast.
Pollution is a world-wide problem. Each one of us has a part to play to reduce it. And every Government has a job to do to curb it and protect its people and the planet. It’s not for others to worry about, its for each and every one of us.
Those drink cans or that empty bottle could have been thrown by anyone of us and it reached the deepest area of ocean. We are turning this wonderful blue planet into a rubbish dump.
Note in the photos, below the Kingfisher a piece of a black plastic bag and along the bank of the river, in the foreground, two tin cans and a bottle.

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