Can I have a Magnifying Glass to See that Frog?

I woke at 5:30 a.m. to give morning bird watching another try. I lathered on some more cream on my nasty bruise (bump almost gone) and headed down to the boat dock. The sun was up, but there was a layer of fog over the water. However, looking up I could see blue sky through the fog so I knew it was going to be a good day.

Nixon and I puttered along in the boat through the fog passing all of the El Chino villagers heading out to catch some fish. In the mean time we headed downstream towards the village in search of birds. We immediately encountered some hawks hanging out on tree branches over the water obviously in search of breakfast.

The birds were out in force this morning as we saw kingfishers, swallows, parakeets, a pair of brilliant small green parrots high in a tree, some vultures flying over head and a myriad of multi coloured birds flitting past us. By the time we reached the village, we had been on the water almost an hour so it was time to head back for breakfast.

Nixon ready to lead the way in our frog hunt

After breakfast, I got ready to head out for a day long trip to find the poison dart frogs. The rare frog is found about 2 hours away and 45 minutes inland so the plan was to leave at 9 and head around the bend in the Tahuayo River and branch off to the Blanco River, a much narrower and shallower river. The upside was the we would be able to look at both sides of the forest in search of birds and animals during the 2 hour boat ride.

So by the time we left, the sun was out and there was not a cloud in the sky. And even better, there was no humidity. Score! Anyway, as we branched onto the Blanco River, we were immediately inundated with butterflies flitting around int the sunlight. It was absolutely wonderful. There were white butterflies with black stripes, brown butterflies with turquoise wings, red butterflies, monarch butterflies and my favourite, a pumpkin coloured butterfly that seemed to travel in packs of three.

Butterfly in my boat

And as if the butterflies weren’t enough, we were surrounded by the morning song of birds swooping back and forth across the river and through the canopy of trees.

As we motored along at a very low rate of speed, the river meandered back and forth and often times was closed in by various tropical plants and trees and the ever present bromeliad, which had attached itself to the closest tree. Vines hung down from trees filled with pink flowers, and large palm trees rustled with the slight breeze. It was absolute heaven.

Butterfly on a leaf

Because we spent so much time looking at birds and butterflies, our two hour trip ended up taking almost three hours. Once we reached the landing point, Nixon tied up the boat and we hiked up the hill towards to the forest. The hill continued up as we made our way along the path and into the forest. We were immediately greeted by the ever present mosquito swarms as well as the dangling vines, tree roots and ant hives.

Butterfly on a branch

As we hiked deeper into the forest, the canopy grew thicker blocking out most of the sunlight (which was actually a good thing because it was becoming incredibly hot). Once we reached the top of the hill, the ground leveled off for a period, before we started to hike down, crossing a stream before we had to hike back up another hill.

Now I am not sure where I thought we would find the frogs, but at one point Nixon veered off the path to the left and using his machete Nixon began to cut a path through the forest. “Uh Nixon where are we going?” “To find the frogs.” So in my little pea brain I simply presumed the path would take us to the frogs. Uh negative. The frogs are found in bromeliad plants so we had to veer off the path in search of the plants. Every now and then we would come across one and Nixon would use the flat of the machete to tap the plant. After about 10 minutes off the path Nixon suddenly whispered to me “There”. “Where?” “There.” “Nixon, I don’t see anything.”

Poison dart frog

Nixon finally took the machete and pointed at a little leaf on which the tiniest frog you have ever seen was sitting. And finally I saw it. Yellow and black stripes with spotted hind legs. But, it was the size that was so remarkable. This thing was about half the size of my thumb. I actually needed to look at the frog through the viewfinder on my camera to get a really good look at it. After taking a couple pictures, the miniature frog darted off. Score one for us!

But Nixon wasn’t finished. There are apparently 5 different species of poisonous dart frogs, and Nixon wanted to find some others. We wandered down the hill towards a little creek and looked in every bromeliad plant, but didn’t spot a one. As we hiked over fallen trees and roots, we came across a hollowed out tree known at the “bat cave”. Apparently the tree was filled with bats and you could crawl in and have a look . (No, I did not take a look. Not enough money in the world to get me to crawl inside that thing. Yuck.)

Bat cave

We continued on the hike stopping to see beautiful multi coloured butterflies, a gecko hanging out on a tree and even found a bromeliad frog in a little cup, but no more tree frogs.

Frog in a bucket
Gecko on a log

So with one frog to our credit, we began to hike back up the hill towards the river. And just when I thought we were done, Nixon stopped and pointed at a leaf. Yep another black and yellow stripped and spotted poisonous dart frog. This time I could see it on the brown leaf very clearly. I took a couple pictures and then just like the last frog, it jumped away.

Second poison dart frog (can you spot it?)
Second poison dart frog

After extricating himself from the hole, we began our descent down towards the river.  By now, we had been hiking almost an hour and a half. I was starving and tired so we took a different, slightly shorter path back to the river. Unfortunately, this path took us over a myriad of streams, past numerous ant hills and up a steeper hill. As we hiked along, Nixon took a step towards a tree and immediately fell into a deep hole. Yikes! Now I know why guides go first.

We finally broke clear of the forest and the swarms of mosquitos and were met by another guide and a couple from Mexico who had also been looking for the frog (they did not find it). From what I understand it is not uncommon to come back without seeing the frog, so I considered myself lucky to have seen two.

The guides prepared a lunch over of fire of chicken and rice while we chatted about the trip. The husband sounded very excited about the trip, but the wife not so much. The husband really wanted to see an anaconda, to which I screwed up my face and said absolutely not. At this point, the wife indicated to me she would like to join me in my boat.  She also had no desire to see an anaconda.

So with lunch behind us, Nixon and I got back in our boat and began the trip back to the lodge. The skies had clouded over a bit, which made for a nice break from the hot sun. The butterflies continued to flit about as we motored back.

Tamarind monkey

Now one thing I have learned about Nixon is that when he slows the boat down (from our already slow pace) he has likely spotted something in the trees. This guy has the most amazing ability to see birds and animals where I simply see nothing. Anyway, as we motored along, Nixon slowed the boat and pointed into the trees … monkey. I looked and looked and did not see a thing. I pulled out the binoculars and still saw nothing. Nixon repositioned the boat and finally there it was: a tamarind monkey. It had a white face and black body and was very small. I have no idea how Nixon could spot it.

We continued around the windy bends in the river and were at one point passed by the Mexican couple. About fifteen minutes later we came upon them close to a river bank staring at a branch… Anaconda. Ugh … but when in Rome. So Nixon slowed our boat, reversed direction and we headed over to take a look. Both were “juveniles” probably 3 to 4 feet long. Both were coiled up sleeping. One was on a branch and the other was in a patch of grass. I took a couple pictures and called it good. Nixon kept asking me if I wanted to get closer … uh no thank you.

“Juvenile” anaconda

After a few minutes we shoved off and continued towards the lodge. As the sun was beginning to set, the birds were out in full force. We saw a a couple hawks and the best of all: two herons. One was white with a beautiful blue crown of feathers, while the other was white with an orange beak. Unfortunately, just as I went to take a picture of the blue crowned heron it took off in full flight. Gorgeous.

Puttering back to the lodge on the Blanco River

We finally reached the lodge about 4:30 with about 45 minutes of sunlight to spare. It had been a wonderful, albeit very tiring day.

Tomorrow we were off to the ARC (the Amazon Research Center), which is part of the lodge about 2 hours up river. It is more remote, has a greater variety of animals and is the base for scientists coming to study the animals and birds in the Amazon. We would be taking the boat again and hopefully seeing more animals.

Author: lawyerchick92

I am a lawyer by trade, but long to be a full time traveller. My life changed for the better when my brother donated a kidney to me on October 14, 2002.

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