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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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.

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