Peru 2010

Trip ReportsPeru 2010

Amazon and Andes AdventureMay-June 2010a non-profit small group butterfly watching adventure to central Peru, researched, organised and led by Adrian Hoskins in conjunction with local guides.

image 10 - Learn Butterflies
Peru 2010 13

Agrias amydon, male, Shima © Adrian Hoskins

Most learnaboutbutterflies tours are lodge-based, and offer a reasonable degree of comfort. This trip however was aimed at hard core enthusiasts prepared for some rough and ready camping and a certain amount of discomfort, in exchange for which we were able to visit some very remote areas where butterflies were exceedingly abundant and very diverse.

Our trip got off to a slow start – the French Air Traffic Controllers were on strike, and we had to use their air space to reach Madrid for our connection to Lima. The result was that we departed late, and on a different plane than the one we were booked on. Our luggage went astray, some of it arriving in Lima 2 days later, and the remainder not reaching us until mid-way through the tour. The original itinerary therefore had to be modified slightly to take account of these circumstances.

We flew first to Pucallpa, a large town heavily based on the forestry industry, in Ucayali province on the western edge of the Amazon basin. From here we took a short trip by motorised longboat across the nearby Yarinacocha lagoon ( alt 155m ). High in the trees at the edge of the lagoon we spotted a sloth, hanging upside down and feeding by constantly scooping armfuls of leaves into its mouth. At the top of another tree we were surprised to see a large iguana at rest on a dead branch.

Arriving on the far banks of the lagoon we found ourselves in a small clearing in which there were scattered mango and cecropia trees. On the trunks we saw many Hamadryas butterflies – the males use tree trunks as lookout posts from which they survey passing females. Other intruding males are quickly intercepted, and chased away.

During the chase the males produce a strange crackling sound by twanging a pair of tiny rods at the tips of their abdomens. We had hours of fun watching the antics of these “Cracker” species, which included februa, feronia, laodamia and the gorgeous Hamadryas amphinome which has a shimmering blue calico pattern on the upperside, and bright red on the underside.

image 11 - Learn Butterflies
Peru 2010 14

Hamadryas amphinome, Yarinacocha, Ucayali © Adrian Hoskins

Also in the area were many other species typical of secondary forest, including the Buckeye Junonia evarete, the Tropical Chequered Skipper Pyrgus oileus, the White Peacock Anartia jatrophae, and the lovely red, black and white Coolie Anartia amathea.

A flowering tree near some farm buildings proved a great attraction to a dozen or so Cloudless Sulphurs Phoebis sennae, while another small tree nearby was found to harbour a variety of skippers, including Autochton longipennis and several small unidentified Hesperiines.

We also found several large and colourful orb web spiders, and 2 huge tarantulas, one at rest on a tree trunk, and the other accidentally disturbed from among ground vegetation. We coaxed the latter specimen out onto a path, at which point it reared up on it’s hind legs in a threatening posture when 2 of us laid down in front of it to take it’s photograph. The spider’s fearsome posturing is no idle threat either – if you annoy a tarantula, it can shoot poisonous spiny hairs into your face !

image 12 - Learn Butterflies
Peru 2010 15

tarantula Avicularia sp in attack mode, Yarinacocha, Ucayali © Adrian Hoskins

The following day we had a long journey in an open longboat along the Rio Curimana, an Amazon tributary, and sailed late into the evening trying to make up lost time. We were sailing ( to be precise, driven by outboard ) in near total darkness for the last couple of hours, and with no light pollution the views of the Milky Way were quite incredible – it was literally possible to see tens of thousands of stars with the naked eye.

Eventually the boatmen decided it was too dark to navigate and we pulled ashore and camped on a sandy river beach. We only had 3 airbeds with us at this stage – I drew the short straw and ended up sleeping on a bed of palm leaves. It was decidedly uncomfortable, and I slid down the beach during the night, and woke up cold and soaked in dew.

Luckily the camera gear was unharmed by the humidity. The “choke” for the MV moth light unfortunately didn’t survive the journey however, so the mothing sessions planned for the early part of the tour didn’t materialise.

image 13 - Learn Butterflies
Peru 2010 16

Rio Curimana © Adrian Hoskins

Next morning, after a very early start, we continued downriver, spotting Amazonian Kingfishers, Cattle Egrets, Hoatzins, Capped Herons, Sunbitterns, and many other fabulous birds along the river banks. Eventually, after about 4 hours, we arrived at the mouth of a narrow and shallow minor black water tributary – the Rio Pindayo. The water was so low that we had to summon assistance from a couple of local boatmen to ferry us individually upstream to our destination about half an hour further on. This was a small finca in an area of disturbed forest, and as we climbed the riverbank and emerged in front of the wooden farm huts, the temperature really hit us hard – it felt like about 40C in the open sunlight!

The first butterfly seen was an ovipositing Battus, and there were visits by various Callicore and Diaethria species, both noted for their bright red and blue uppersides, and with their undersides boldly marked with an “89”, “88”, or “BD” pattern, hence the popular name “numberwings”. Other visitors included the stunning lime green Philaethria dido, a Protographium Swordtail species, the stunning Asterope degandii, and the gaudy orange long-wings Dryadula phaetusa and Dryas iulia.

Around the edge of the farmyard, we saw the delightful Amarynthis meneria, marked with red bars on a black ground color; and a stunning fresh example of the Rainbow Metalmark Caria trochilus, glittering in metallic green, violet, and mauve. We dined on freshly plucked chicken that night and slept overnight in tents within a wooden farm building.

The next day was cloudy and cooler – we had a half-day walk through surrounding primary forest but there was hardly anything flying. Towards the end of the afternoon, Peter and Tony discovered a few clumps of Eupatorium with a nice selection of accompanying Ithomiine Tigers and Glasswings. We spent a couple of hours at the same spot next morning, and for the remainder of the day, we explored a large sunlit sandbank on the river where we saw several Dynamine species and lots of Marpesia Daggerwings. There was much better to come, however, later on the tour.

Next, we departed by boat and then by 4×4 to eventually reach Tingo Maria, where we stayed at a very nice hacienda with a smattering of common butterflies including Anartia amathea, Junonia genoveva, Adelpha cytherea, Phoebis argante, and several Urbanus Long-tailed Skipper species in the grounds. We had day trips out to various parts of Tingo Maria N.P. Some of the walks were slightly strenuous but it was good practice for what lay ahead.

Tingo had some nice butterflies including the lovely long-tailed metallic purple Rhetus periander, various dazzling blue Morpho species, the Mosaic Colobura dirce, and several Callicore species, but was not particularly good in terms of variety or numbers. Among the many other insects seen was a species of grasshopper in which the black and red male, and the much larger blue and yellow female could be seen acting as shepherds, carefully herding their brood of young hoppers from leaf to leaf.

image 14 - Learn Butterflies
Peru 2010 17

Hills near Tingo Maria, altitude circa 1500m © Adrian Hoskins

After Tingo, we had a very long and tiring day traveling to Shismay – a tiny village perched high in the Andes at about 3000 meters altitude, a few kilometers from Huanuco.

Along the route, we had stopped at a petrol filling station, where we captured a pretty Geometrid moth, and at Shismay the following morning, we released it onto a mossy wall where we hoped it would pose for our cameras. It was not the most cooperative of moths, however, and vibrated its wings rapidly, preparing to take flight.

To the great amusement of the hotel staff, our gang of “moth-whisperers” started blowing on its wings, talking to it, and jangling keys next to it (a trick that simulates ultrasound bat echoes and has the effect of causing active moths to freeze on the spot).

While this tomfoolery was going on, we spotted some young spiny caterpillars feeding on nearby herbs, and concluded after some debate that they were probably the larvae of the Brazilian Painted Lady Vanessa braziliensis.

When the sun rose high enough to illuminate the small meadow next to our hotel, we saw several of these very beautiful butterflies, but our main targets were the several species of Colias Clouded Yellows and Hylephila Skippers flying from flower to flower on the slopes.

image 15 - Learn Butterflies
Peru 2010 18

view from Hacienda Shismay, circa 3000m altitude © Adrian Hoskins

The next morning, we began another long overland journey to Satipo, traveling on pot-holed roads, and we were very tired by the time we arrived at our hotel.

Satipo is a very nice but bustling town, surrounded by steep forested hills, mostly primary rainforest but with some areas planted with coffee. We had a day trip to the fabulous Catarata Bayoz waterfall where there were masses of butterflies.

Peter and I got up to our usual tricks, laying down in thick mud trying to get that “perfect picture” of a Eurytides, and there were hordes of Smyrna, Callicore, Siproeta, Colobura, Rhetus, Anthanassa, Rekoa, Pseudolycaena, Doxocopa, etc. to photograph. Our local guides didn’t really know what to make of us – they were more used to catering for collectors and were amused at the sight of 4 mad Englishmen sprawled out in the mud photographing their butterflies!

Near Satipo is a small village called Mariposa (the Spanish word for butterfly) where we found various Catasticta, Pereute, Memphis, and Parides species. The local trout farm provided us with a fabulous late lunch, after which we spent another hour on the trails before returning to Satipo.

image 16 - Learn Butterflies
Peru 2010 19

Looking towards the beautiful Andean foothills, from Mariposa, near Satipo © Adrian Hoskins

Our long road and river journeys were by now beginning to take their toll, but the last leg of the trip was to be even more of a challenge – although the rewards far outweighed the discomforts. We drove from Satipo to the native village of Shima, where after a certain amount of bargaining, we hired some Ashaninka Indians to act as porters.

We were instructed to pack our cameras away and wrap them in polythene to protect them from getting wet, and then set off on a 2-hour hike through the forest. The hike was quite easy but involved two river crossings where we had to wade across shallow but fast-running streams. We also had to scramble over big boulders and negotiate one or two steep slopes.

Not a hike for the faint-hearted, but we all arrived safely.

image 17 - Learn Butterflies
Peru 2010 20

the hut in the rainforest at Shima – our home for 6 days! © Adrian Hoskins

We arrived in late afternoon at the ramshackle hut that was to be our home for the next 6 nights. By the time we arrived, the butterflies had already gone to sleep, but our moth lights (repaired at Lima and shipped back out to us by our helpful host Manuel) were quickly set up and brought in a great variety of species with strange cryptic patterns and even stranger resting postures.

During the following nights, we took hundreds of photos of these moths as they rested on the moth sheet. Others were popped into pill boxes for photography the next morning. As well as amazing and strangely shaped Geometridae and Notodontidae, there were beautiful window-winged Pyralidae and lots of fascinating Arctiidae wasp mimics.

Larger species included splendid Automeris Bull’s-eye silkmoths and some fabulous Sphingidae. There were also guest appearances by mantises, huge Rhinoceros beetles, damselflies, strange hemipteran bugs, cicadas, and crepuscular butterflies.

Our hut was situated in a forest at a point where 2 streams converge. The immediate surroundings included a small clearing and riverbanks strewn with boulders, between which were small sandy patches to which hordes of butterflies were attracted.

The area has been baited by collectors with urine and various unmentionables for many years and acted as a magnet, attracting masses of butterflies every day from the surrounding forest. Literally thousands of butterflies of every shape, pattern, and color imaginable, including several Morpho, Marpesia, Callicore & Doxocopa species, vast numbers of Panacea prola, and a huge variety of sun-loving Riodinids, Pierids & Papilionidae.

On an average day, we would see 4 or 5 pristine Agrias, a similar number of the huge and stunning electric blue Morpho rhetenor, 4 or 5 Caria species, several Rhetus and Ancyluris, hundreds of Marpesia Daggerwings, huge Phocides and Jemadia Paradise-skippers, lots of dazzling Doxocopa Emperors, many species of Adelpha Sisters, scores of Urania moths, and numerous Swallowtails.

image 18 - Learn Butterflies
Peru 2010 21

boulder-strewn river beach at Shima, where butterflies swarmed in thousands © Adrian Hoskins

On a nearby island, which we reached by boulder-hopping over a fast river, there were even more butterflies. Along a trail linking the two areas, we saw several Glasswing Ithomiines, Brassolines, and understorey Satyrines, including the transparent Haetera piera.

On the penultimate afternoon, we were visited by a pristine Batesia hypochlora, marked in beautiful subtle shades of powder blue and pink. Amongst the many other delights, we found a great selection of big skippers, including 2 stunning yellow Myscelus species.

The final butterfly seen was an immaculate Caligo Owl butterfly that was attracted to fish paste placed on a mossy log at dawn on the morning of our departure.

image 19 - Learn Butterflies
Peru 2010 22

Batesia hypochlora, Shima, Peru © Adrian Hoskins

Back at our hotel at Satipo on the final afternoon of the tour, we were visited by another gorgeous Caligo that we “called in” as it flew past the balcony. To our surprise and amusement, it responded to our invitation and politely fluttered in from the street, settling in the perfect pose on the table in front of us.

We returned to Lima by road, allowing a 12-hour safety margin to avoid delays due to landslides or strikes. In practice, neither happened, and we arrived with several hours to spare. During this extra time, we enjoyed a tour of the city and the deserted beaches, and had a chance to sample the justly famous Lima cuisine.

Throughout the tour, we had excellent food, including venison, agouti, peccary, trout, and several delicious Chinese meals. On the day of our departure, we were treated by our hosts to a fantastic buffet Peruvian lunch.

image 20 - Learn Butterflies
Peru 2010 23

the Holy Grail – Morpho rhetenor © Adrian Hoskins

The trip was occasionally slightly strenuous, and at Shima, it was not particularly hygienic, but it was very exciting and provided us with enough traveler’s tales to keep us talking for several years. We saw and photographed more butterflies than on any other similar holiday any of us had undertaken and encountered a diversity of species that matched anywhere else. Our driver Abel, and our local guide Ruben were both excellent, and we received a genuine and very warm welcome wherever we went. Join us on our next trip!

the%20group%20 %20Rio%20Tambo%20001a - Learn Butterfliesleft to right – Ruben, Peter, Tony, Adrian & Steve, at Rio Tambo

More on this topic

Previous article
Next article