Osprey, Brazilian Amazon Rainforest Migrant. Pandeon haliaetus.

The Osprey. Pandion haliaetus. Brazilian Tropical Rainforest visitor.

The magnificent Osprey could be seen from early in the mornings perched on the highest tree, during the wet season which began in late November. It would occasionally swoop down to catch its prey from the river with its huge, sharp claws.
It was a large bird, similar in size to a Buzzard or Eagle, with brown upper parts, pale grey underparts and long black wings. It’s greyish white head had an attractive black eye patch.
Ospreys are raptors. They eat fish…their common names are fish eagle or fish hawk. They have a long hook on their beaks which is used for tearing apart the fish.
The Osprey I saw was always alone. It was a non-breeding migrant, visiting from North America.

An Osprey sharing the same tree with a Heron. Both after the same breakfast, although I think the heron may have given way if they had gone for the same fish….unusual too, to see a heron at such a height.
I will never forget the sight of that beautiful bird, I looked for it every morning. It made my heart leap.

20130530-152523.jpg

Zebra Butterflies. Visitors reach my Blog with question,’Is the Zebra found in Amazon?’

Is the Zebra found in the Amazon rain forest? This question leads people to my blog. The answer is no, no zebras.
But, there are Zebra Butterflies. Beautiful butterflies with a taste for melon.
The Zebra Heliconias (Heliconius charitonius) are black with cream or white stripes. They eat pollen and sip nectar from passionflower plants, which makes them mildly poisonous to predators.

20130529-100255.jpg

20130529-100333.jpg

Fish of the Amazon River. PeacockBass/ Tucanare, Piranha, Discus, Golden Dorado,

I was not a lover of fresh water fish before going to the Amazon, too many bones and a strong taste.
However, when you are hungry, almost anything looks appetising and I did, eventually, get used to the taste, and in fact, really enjoyed some of the varieties Monduco and I caught.
As the Amazon rivers contain over three thousand species of fish, its not hard to find some to tempt the taste buds.
Monduco cooked the fish on a makeshift barbecue….a platform of twigs. We had them with rice or potatoes and lemon from the plantation.
The Discus fish we often caught were a beautiful turquoise and black colour, almost too lovely to eat. The PeacockBass-Tucanare, with the eye shaped spot on its tail, was a favourite.

20130519-153506.jpg
Piranhas were a surprise. Some varieties are large and they come in different colours: Red-Bellied, Black, Gold, Silver. They are tasty too, as can be seen in the photo of visitors to my home.

20130519-153703.jpg
They were either caught by rod fishing or, the large ones, harpooned with a homemade spear. Fishermen also used small nets. In areas where fish gathered it was an easy way to capture breakfast.

20130519-153842.jpg

20130519-153913.jpg

20130519-153935.jpg
If we were very lucky we got a large fish like the Golden Dorado. The meat on a fish that large is similar to a piece of cod. It’s white and thick and delicious. With a squeeze of lemon from the plantation. Hmm, a real treat.

20130519-154051.jpg

20130519-154112.jpg
There were downsides to fishing though. If the catch was small in size, Monduco would put the fish altogether in a pot and boil them. Their eyes would stare out at me, glossy and blank. I could only eat the fish if Monduco beheaded them first, so I didn’t eat if they were boiled. The smell was horrendous and would hang around the kitchen for ages.

20130519-154303.jpg

20130519-154247.jpg

20130519-154314.jpg
If Monduco caught a good haul of fish, too many to eat in one sitting, he would put them on a prepared wooden platform for days to dry in the sun. Again the smell was awful and attracted flies. I, wisely I think, didn’t eat the fish prepared in this way.

Two fishy tales:

One evening on returning to the lodge, as we turned the boat to go towards the forest, Something suddenly hit me in the face. I jumped and yelled and then saw it was one of hundreds of silver fish flying through the air either landing in the boat with a thud or splashing back into the water.
There was no explanation to me about the flying fish, but maybe they were being chased by grey Bottle-nosed or pink Boto dolphins and flew from the water in panic. Or maybe it was the mating season for these fish. Some fish,like the Characins, can fly for short distances on winglike fins.

Another anomaly I saw was during the dry season. As the water levels decreased, leaving only shallow pools, noxious gases were released from the rotting vegetation/organic matter on the river bed, causing the death of fish which floated to the surface. The fishermen for a few days only had to wade through the mud to collect their daily meals.

Frogs and Toads of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest.

Frogs and Toads of the Amazon Rainforest.

Frogs and toads frequented the kitchen. The warmth and humidity were perfect for these amphibians who felt quite at home in the damp conditions.
The Amazon Rainforest contains more than a thousand species of frogs and many of them found their way to my kitchen.
The photo shows one of my favourites. A large frog, orangey brown, with dark stripes. The eyes of these frogs were amazing, dark blue with red flashes surrounded by a golden filigree edge, like precious jewels. Stunning.
I hate cockroaches, the only insects I can’t bear, and these frogs ensured that they, and any other insect which made its way into the kitchen, were not a problem, so were welcome living pest controllers. They moved easily about the wooden walls of the kitchen, securely attached by their sucker like feet and could frequently be found between the large serving spoons, forks, knives, colanders and saucepans that hung from hooks on the walls.

20130514-161853.jpg

The brown frogs shared the kitchen with what I believe was a toad. It had greenish-grey warty textured skin, but I thought it handsome.

20130514-162038.jpg

The frogs and toads did not stay in the kitchen entirely though. One day I was taking, carefully, the washing from the line, when something large and cold slapped onto my chest. I froze rigid thinking it was a snake, but the frog then jumped back onto the wall, leaving me shaking with fright.

20130514-162203.jpg

There were tiny, brightly coloured frogs too. They do not like the walls of the lodge, instead preferring cool, dark, damp places. I found a particularly pretty one; tiny, pink and pale grey with delicately patterned, black markings, in the toe of a Wellington boot. I went to pick this pretty frog up, but my hand was grabbed and pulled away. It was poisonous, as are most small frogs. I learnt on day one in the rainforest that many creatures like closed-in footwear. I was told never to put on a pair of shoes or boots without investigating the toes first with a stick and this I did religiously.

20130514-162352.jpg

20130514-162404.jpg

A fungal infection is decimating frogs worldwide, see Chytrid and virus

Amazon mask and forest spirits. Why trees scream.

The Mask: I bought the mask from an indigenous group of Indians that lived close to Manacapuru. They were Satare-Mawe from Parintins Island.
They lived in an area of forest surrounded by a small settlement of caboclos living in wooden houses with modern accessories. The Indians area of forest was fenced off, but houses were being built close by. I doubt they would be able to continue their simple way of life for much longer.
I was told some of the traditional names of the people. The chief was called Tatu…Armadillo. A young boy with strong features was called Onca…Jaguar. A pretty young girl was named Passarinha…little bird. A young man named Gumbar…stinky animal, a beautiful woman…named Formiga da Cabeca Brilhosa…..Ant with shiny head and another older woman was named Camillion…Chaemeleon

The mask I bought was said to be used in ceremonies or to ward off evil spirits. It is made of either a thin husk or balsa wood, which grows in the forest. The long fringe at the bottom is made from grasses.
The necklace is made from rough string threaded with seeds and decorated with snake bones.
Strangely the expression on the mask alters when it is looked at from different angles.

20130509-123946.jpg

20130509-124029.jpg

20130509-124050.jpg

20130509-124150.jpg

20130509-124237.jpg
Forest spirits: A friend was taking a visiting couple into the forest on a short trek, I was asked to go along as they were English and I could explain things to them more easily.
As we waited for the guests, Ananias, an Apurina Indian, started muttering under his breath. I asked what was the problem. He said he was asking the forest for safe passage. Given to joking and teasing me, I wasn’t sure he was serious, but he insisted that he was doing that.
Later he explained that he always did that and thanked the forest when he got back safely. He said his father and grandfather taught him that.
Anyone who has ever been in a rainforest will understand. It seems alive, not just in the natural sense, but in a spiritual way. Entering the forest is akin to walking through the doors of a grand cathedral. It is immense and humbling, so therefore, to ask for safe passage seems a quite natural thing to do.
I spent many days, weeks sometimes, entirely alone in the forest and I felt it keenly…..the essence, a life force, coming from within the rainforest. I read recently in National Geographic that trees cry,scream even if they are dehydrated. Might they do that when they are chopped down? Might that be why so many of us are fighting to protect the forest?

20130509-124743.jpg

Butterflies of the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest. Morphos, Zebra Heliconias, Postman and Owl butterflies.

The Amazon Rainforest contains two and a half million species of insects. Some of them belong to the beautiful and large order of insects, the Lepidoptera, which includes butterflies and moths.

Butterflies have three stages of development from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis. Many of the caterpillars in the forest are poisonous or have hairs which can cause intense irritation. See the second stage here in this poisonous caterpillar.

20130506-145646.jpg

The body of the butterfly is divided into three parts..the head, the thorax and the abdomen. The legs and wings are attached to the central area, the thorax.
The most noticeable thing on their heads are the large eyes…clearly seen in the female Morpho photo.
Male Morphos (Morpho menelaus ) have iridescent, laminated wings of a rich turquoise blue, sometimes edged with black. They are stunning, large, butterflies which seem to float on air. They are breathtakingly beautiful.
The female Morpho is dull in comparison, but with a certain charm and incredible eyes.
These butterflies sip juices from rotting fruit.

20130506-145818.jpg

Butterflies feed on flowers and each species favours particular flowers. The Heliconius feed on various kinds of Passion flowers which makes them mildly poisonous to predators. The bright colouring of their wings sends out a visual warning that they will be unpleasant to taste. Some other nontoxic butterflies mimic the colouring of the Heliconius for protection.

The Zebra Heliconius (Heliconius charitonius) is black with cream or white stripes. They eat pollen and sip nectar from passionflower plants.
I cut a piece of water melon, which they were partial too, just so I could watch them.

20130506-145935.jpg

20130506-145951.jpg

The Postman butterflies (Heliconius melpomene-also known as Longwings) are black with striking red markings, again to warn predators off. They feed on nectar and also pollen from Lantana or verbena, Hamelia and Palicouria. This one was attracted to the plastic container in which I put decaying food used for mulching plants.

20130506-150105.jpg

20130506-150117.jpg

Owl butterflies (Caligo memnon),so named for the large eye-like markings on their wings, use a different method of protection from predators, who seem to find the eyes on their wings confusing and off putting. They may also use the ‘eyes’ to draw away attacks to their heads.
Owl butterflies feed on Heliconia and Musa (includes bananas). Their main predators are small lizards.
Fluttering under the house in the late afternoons, they had to avoid the large Tegu and small Ameiva lizards that lived there.

20130506-150300.jpg

20130506-150314.jpg
A fascinating fact: The Passion flower plant uses mimicry to deter predators, just as some butterflies do. Butterflies will only lay their eggs on clear, pristine leaves, free from another females eggs, to give their caterpillars a good start in life. The Passion flower, to deter this and prevent all its leaves being eaten, produces mock eggs on its leaves and stems.

Insects of the Amazon Rainforest. Grasshoppers, Katydids & Leaf/Plant Hoppers.

Insects of the Amazon Rainforest, Brazil.

There are a multitude of insects in the Amazon Rainforest and I do believe I have met most of them personally.
They hum and chirp, buzz and sing constantly, a sound that merges into a rhythmic beat, like a heart beat, that goes on all day in the forest. Occasionally the heartbeat stops dead…..absolute silence reigns for a few seconds. Then it returns and you wonder at the insects timing. How do they do that, all going silent at once?
Insects also bite and sting, nip and suck. Most of the Amazons insects have evolved spiteful ways to protect themselves and so they are best left alone and avoided by visitors, but not by photographers and scientists and the curious ie me.
One morning I was watching a sparkling, jewel coloured fly on my hand. It was swept off by a friend who told me the fly would lay eggs under my skin, which would grow into caterpillars and eat me. Well not all of me, that would be a challenge to even the biggest animal, but certainly a small area of my body.
Here are a few which are harmless. See Mud Dauber Wasps for those that sting.

These Grasshoppers are just three of the two and a half million species of insect in the Amazon Rainforest. Grasshoppers come in a range of colours, from a dull greyish-brown to a more common green or to something more vibrant, a rich emerald green and mustard yellow.
Grasshoppers make their calls by scraping the inside of their back legs against hardened areas on their wings. Each species, of course, has its own distinctive call.

20130503-090018.jpg

20130503-090112.jpg

20130503-090154.jpg
This Waxy-tailed Leaf-hopper ( or Plant-hopper), is a showy insect. It’s waxy tails are probably used as a defence mechanism, attracting predators away from its head. If snapped off they regrow.
These insects drink sweet juices from plants and trees using their proboscis.

20130503-090455.jpg
The Katydid here is clearly seen on the woven grasshopper, but on a bush it would be virtually invisible. It even has the veins of a leaf marked on its body to enable it to blend in with its environment.
There are some two thousand species of Katydid in the Amazon. They feed on flowers and fruit and provide protein to many animals and birds. See Tettigoniidae for a fascinating story about these insects.

20130503-090629.jpg
This beetle was photographed by accident. I was taking a photo of the flowers and didn’t notice until later that I had caught it in the frame.
I have no idea what it is, only that it looks quite extraordinary…like a raspberry with legs, a friend said.
That’s the Amazon Rainforest for you, full of surprises.

20130503-090739.jpg