Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wildlife filming in the Amazon

Over the past 15 years, GreenTracks has organized filmshoots for companies ranging from Discovery and Animal Planet to National Geographic, the BBC, and The History Channel. Temperamental animals, recalcitrant equipment, and inclement weather coupled with heat, humidity, and mosquitos can make a filmshoot the most heroic undertaking. Through it all we have enjoyed getting to know the talented, smart, humorous and capable people who make these stories appear on your television screen. We all know, or at least try and remind ourselves, that television is fiction (although we try to make it as accurate as possible), but the real stories are the ones behind the scenes.....the heroes who get the job done. We tip our hats to all of them.

If you ever wondered how they do those slow-motion rotating shots around a character, as in the Matrix films, this is how it is done - with videos cameras on each end of a set of still cameras.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rainforest conservation: a year in review

December 2009
By Rhett Butler

2009 may prove to be an important turning point for tropical forests.

Lead by Brazil, which had the lowest extent of deforestation since at least the 1980s, global forest loss likely declined to its lowest level in more than a decade. Critical to the fall in deforestation was the global financial crisis, which dried up credit for forest-destroying activities and contributed to a crash in commodity prices, an underlying driver of deforestation.
2009 saw major developments reflecting the implications of the shift from poverty-driven deforestation to enterprise-driven deforestation, a trend that continues to accelerate with urbanization and abandonment of government-sponsored colonization projects.



Saturday, December 19, 2009

The City of Lima, a Box Filled with Surprises

Living in Peru
14 December, 2009

Photos and Essay by Armando Alcázar

The city of Lima was founded by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in the year 1535.
From that point on, things have changed a lot, and at my 50 years of age, I have been able to see a lot of those changes. The city, due to the pass of time, is a more modern place, but plenty of its impressive colonial architecture still graces the landscape.



Thursday, December 17, 2009

The GreenTracks Naturalist


When you travel in Peru the most conspicuous vertebrates (aside from humans) are birds, and they are as varied and wonderful as the country itself. Taken as a whole, Peru has over 1800 species of birds of which over 100 species are endemics (known only from Peru). The lowland rainforests of the Amazon Basin in northeastern Peru comprise but one of the nine life zones in the country, yet they contain some 700 species of birds, or 38% of the country’s total.
Birds exploit practically every type of habitat ranging from the high Andes to the Pacific Ocean. In the Peruvian Amazon birds have exploited the aquatic realm, wading and shore birds use the water’s edge, birds live in swamp forest, upland forest, secondary and primary growth, scrub and the high canopy. It is impossible to convey the rich diversity of Amazonian birds with a few photographs, so we’ll show a few and revisit the subject many times in upcoming contributions.

Masked Crimson Tanager Ramphocelus nigrogularis. Peru has a richness of magnificently colored tanagers and fortunately many are conspicuous inhabitants of pasture land and other areas of secondary growth.

Cream-colored Woodpecker Celeus flavus. This unmistakable beauty is best located along river margins and in swamp forest.

Barred Forest Falcon Micrastur ruficollis. Although forest falcons are difficult to observe they may be the most dominant predatory bird group in the Peruvian Amazon where no fewer than five species can be found.

Wattled Curassow Crax globulosa. Curassows are the size of turkeys and as such are hunted for food. Most of them are now restricted to the more remote regions of forest. Interestingly, locals examine their crops for gold flecks the big birds consume.

Blue and yellow Macaw Ara ararauna. Macaws rank among the most spectacular and noticeable of Amazonian birds and a raucous flock of Blue and yellow Macaws makes for an unforgettable sight.

Scarlet Macaw Ara macao. The classic pirate’s pet, Scarlet macaws are familiar the world over. Sometimes we see mixed flocks of Scarlet with Blue and yellow macaws. It looks like an airborne (and noisy!) festival when they fly over our boat.

Ferruginous Pygmy-owl Glaucidium brasilianum. One of the smallest owls in the country, this tiny predator is often active by day. It prefers riverside and swamp forests and second-growth. The distinctive call is often heard just prior to dawn.

Hoatzin Opisthocomus hoatzin. This bizarre bird is in its own family. It is herbivorous and the newly hatched young can swim and have claws on their wings to help them climb back into the spiny palms where these strange creatures nest.

Pied Lapwing Vanellus cayanus. This boldly colored plover is a fairly common resident along sandy beaches and adjacent open areas.

Sun Bittern Europyga helias. This interesting bird hunts for food along streams, rivers and the edges of forest lakes. When threatened it spreads and raises the wings exposing a pair of imposing eye spots.

Birds of Peru.
by Schulenberg, T.S., D. F. Stotz, D. F. Lane, J. P. O’Neill, and T. A. Parker III. 2007
Princeton University Press.

At last! The long awaited comprehensive guide to the avifauna of Peru, featuring sumptuously beautiful color plates and treating 1,800 species. The range maps are adjacent to the illustrations and the book is handy despite its 656 pages. It is a shame comparative info for diagnosing species could not be included but the authors obviously opted for the critical coverage provided by plates and maps and they chose wisely.

More info/Order


Monday, December 14, 2009

Delfin Riverboats Last-Minute Discounted Departures

We are offering a special 30% discount on selected departures in January on both the Delfin I and Delfin II.



Saturday, December 12, 2009

An incredible 16 day, 2,000 mile voyage on the Amazon from the Atlantic to the Peruvian rainforest.

We at GreenTracks get quite a few inquiries every year about longer Amazon cruises. People ask about trips from Belem to Iquitos or the opposite direction. We are now pleased to be able to offer just such a cruise aboard the Clelia II where you will enjoy elegant accommodations, intimate surroundings, and superb service while covering over 2,000 miles of the Amazon.

As you cruise between Belem, near the mouth of the Amazon on the Atlantic, along the wide snaking length of the world’s longest river, deep into sinuous tributaries and flooded forests, to Iquitos in the Peruvian rain forest, you will have the opportunity to see and experience all the incredible sights Amazonia offers. In addition to our own onboard expert naturalist guides, we are privileged to have on these expeditions a stellar team of lecturers

Now more than ever, a cultural or an expedition voyage can be an antidote to these changing times, but we recognize the need for increased incentives. That is why for this exceptional voyage the ship's operators are offering unprecedented incentives, including rates that are substantially lower than their normal prices as well as waiving the single supplement for solo travelers. Lowering the prices, however, does not mean that they have compromised the quality and standards of operation, or that they have taken away services and arrangements they normally include.



Thursday, December 10, 2009

Amazon Cruises

A cruise aboard a comfortable riverboat may be the most enjoyable way to explore the Amazon region. You will experience "timeless" travel on the worlds' largest river and observe the diverse flora and fauna of the rainforest.
Even though these are technically Amazon River cruises, you won't be stuck on the cruise vessel. As the boat travels the Amazon River and its tributaries, you will enjoy frequent off-boat excursions, such as hikes through the rainforest and small-boat trips in search of wildlife. Expert naturalist guides will give explanations of the incredible plants and numerous species of captivating animals that you'll see. You will even visit several riverside villages and meet some of the true natives of the Amazon.
We offer Amazon River Cruises of:

7 Day on the Ayapua & Clavero riverboats

M/V Ayapua

M/V Clavero

4 Day and 5 Day on the Delfin riverboats

Delfin I

Delfin II

GreenTracks Amazon Cruises


Monday, December 7, 2009

FREE GreenTracks CD-Rom

Be sure to request your....

FREE GreenTracks CD-Rom of Amazon Information with an Amazon Slide Show.
Features over 200 images of animals, plants, people and scenes from the Amazon.
Photos taken by our tour leaders on GreenTracks tours.

Free Amazon CD-ROM


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The GreenTracks Naturalist


Ever since the first outsider set foot in the Amazon, the world has been subjected to countless lurid tales of a Green Hell teeming with slithering snakes, each capable of recognizing a human and all determined to maim and kill. Aside from being demonstrably untrue at all levels, this approach reflects a basic flaw in our way of viewing nature. The world is filled with hazards—your computer might blow up as you read this—and each has a risk factor, that is, how likely it is to occur, attached to it. The science of risk analysis has been responsible for most aspects of life in the developed world and it is why things tend to function safely and efficiently. Yet we have never approached the world of animals in this manner so a risk factor of 100% is assigned to anything potentially negative that a wild animal might be capable of doing to a human.

While this absurdity has made things lucrative for Hollywood, and has titillated a generation of couch potatoes who do not realize that most of what they are watching is fiction, it also has fueled the continuing bias that has made things difficult for the Amazon and its fragile wildlife. High-risk factors in the Amazon are things like drowning, getting lost, slipping and falling, getting sunburned, etc. The low-risk items like being attacked by jaguars, consumed by piranhas, squeezed by anacondas, or bitten by a venomous snake provide the fodder for films, “documentaries,” and books. Despite all tales to the contrary, snakes do not attack, are not aggressive (unless you count vigorously defending themselves when scared or hurt) and haven’t a clue as to what a human being might be. An honest film about high-risk hazards in the Amazon Basin would feature cars, motorcycles, and trucks to the exclusion of all else.

Working with reptiles and amphibians is what brought us to the Amazon in the first place and here we are some 35 years later, still going after them. It is a shame that fear and ignorance about these creatures have, if anything increased during this time. GreenTracks has taken hundreds of people into the Amazon during the past 18 years and we have never had any problems. In fact, we can state unequivocally that finding snakes in the Amazon is much more difficult that it is in the US or Europe. What the Amazon does have is what biologists call a high degree of species richness, that is, the numbers of different kinds of things. So, while it is difficult to even see a snake, it is even more difficult to see two or more of the same kind because there are so many different kinds present.

The part of the Amazon Basin we visit is home to seventeen species of dangerously venomous snakes, of which seven are pitvipers and ten are coralsnakes. The pitvipers include the infamous Bushmaster (Lachesis muta), the largest venomous snake in the Western Hemisphere and an animal that is feared and revered. There are almost no bites recorded on humans from this uncommon and shy animal. Another pitviper, the unimpressive, 3-foot-long South American Lancehead or Fer-de-Lance (Bothrops atrox), however, is responsible for 99% of all human envenoming in the entire Amazon Basin.

Coralsnakes, which range from the 15-inch Black-backed Coralsnake (Micrurus scutiventris) to the nearly six-foot Spix’s coralsnake (Micrurus spixii) tend to be colorful and they are extremely shy, seldom venturing from the safety of leaf litter out onto the surface of the ground and thus not often seen by humans. We are aware of two coralsnake bites in the entire upper Amazon region. Just to complicate things, Mother Nature has larded the area with beautifully ringed but entirely harmless snakes that look like coralsnakes. And for every venomous snake species there are about seven kinds of harmless ones. Here we share a few images of venomous snakes from the Amazon…..

Aquatic Coralsnake (Micrurus surinamensis). One of the longest and easily the bulkiest of all coralsnakes, this placid reptile feeds on knife fish and possess venom so toxic it can kill its prey instantly. Fortunately they never bother humans!

Slender Coralsnake (Micrurus filiformis). This brightly colored snake lives in leaf litter near flood forests so rising waters often make it swim for higher land, leading many to mistakenly think it prefers the water.

Putumayo Coralsnake (Micrurus putumayensis). This essentially black and yellow snake lives along the southern border of the Amazon River and is one of the least known coralsnake species.

Langsdorff's Coralsnake (Micrurus langsdorffi). Not only are Latin American coralsnakes more variable than those in the United States, but also they sometimes lack black rings altogether.

South American Lancehead (Bothrops atrox). This rather unimposing pitviper is the most important—and almost the only—source of venomous snakebite throughout its range, which includes the entire Amazon Basin. The problem is that it is adaptable and will take advantage of the trash piles humans leave near their homes as this attracts rodents and other food items.

The business end of a pitviper. These snakes possess a sophisticated means of detecting prey (thermo receptive pits) and flexible hollow fangs which function like the invention they inspired: the hypodermic needle.

Amazonian Toadheaded Pitviper (Bothrocophias hyoprora). This small pitviper is so sluggish it seldom moves and is rarely seen by humans. Like all terrestrial pitvipers, its colors and pattern blend with the leaf litter of the forest floor.

Inca Forest-pitviper (Bothriopsis chloromelas). Who says snakes can’t be beautiful? This gaudy reptile lives in cloud forests and along mountain slopes in Peru and likely in Ecuador.

South American Bushmaster (Lachesis muta). Bushmasters are the longest venomous snakes in the Western Hemisphere and they possess a largely undeserved reputation for malice.

South American Bushmaster flicks its tongue. Snakes use their tongues as important sense organs that provide them with information about their surroundings

Kids, don’t try this at home! All joking aside, a fully aroused bushmaster is a redoubtable foe. Fortunately they are usually lethargic, but handling them in any fashion is a job best left to the experienced.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Heroes of the Environment 2009

23 September, 2009
By Simon Robinson

From saving wild mountain rivers in China to measuring the Arctic's icy expanse, from protecting the lush forests of Africa to conducting a feisty online debate, our green heroes are informed by this simple notion: We can all make a difference

It's easy to think that all the hard decisions are in the hands of our leaders alone. Not true. As the men and women in the following pages prove, we can all make a difference. Pen Hadow, leader of a daring survey across the Arctic to measure the thickness of sea ice, puts it this way: "Turning off a standby light once won't make a difference. Do it for the rest of your life and that amounts to something. And if everybody's doing something, then we're moving in the right direction." We hope our environmental heroes provide both inspiration and action. Like financial pundits, most of them embrace the idea that a crisis also presents opportunity. They are heroes because they set out to discover what that opportunity might be.



Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The GreenTracks Naturalist

One of the great things about poking around in the rainforest of the upper Amazon basin is the variety of primates found there. In the greater Iquitos region there are at least 14 species of monkey representing two families. There are few places in the world with such a richness of species. The larger varieties such as Woolley, Spider and Red Howler monkeys are much persecuted for their meat, so seeing these often requires a bit of work. On the other hand, many of the smaller species such as tamarinds, Squirrel Monkeys, and Pygmy marmosets can be observed even close to the city. And the Pygmy marmoset is the world’s smallest primate. Goeldi’s Monkey ranks among the most elusive of all animals. And who can forget the bold red face of a Uakari? Hearing the deafening roar of Red Howlers greeting the dawn is an indelibly Amazonian experience and we always associate it with being topside on the deck, coffee, binoculars and bird guides in hand. Here’s a look at a few Amazonian monkeys…

White-bellied spider Monkey (Ateles belzebuth)

Sooty Capuchin (Cebus apella)

Goeldi’s Monkey (Callimico goeldi)

Equatorial Saki Monkey (Pithecia aequatorialis)

Red Uakari (Cacajao calvus rubicunda)


Saturday, November 21, 2009


An Introduction to Tropical Rain Forests
by Timothy Whitmore. 1998.
Oxford University Press, USA.

This new edition of Whitmore's classic introduction to tropical rain forests has been comprehensively revised and updated, reflecting the changes which have taken place since it was first published in 1990. The sections on human impact have been extended to include a new global assessment of deforestation as well as details of new research on biodiversity and conservation. Discussion of the future of the rain forests and priorities for action is incorporated. Accessibly written, and illustrated throughout with line-drawings and photographs, this is a must for biology and geography students, and anyone else who seeks to know more about the nature and importance of the world's tropical rain forests.

More info/Order


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Trip report - Riverboat Expedition

We received this letter and photos from Solange Ethier who recently traveled with us on one of our riverboat expeditions.

I found GreenTracks and its great web site and it encompassed everything I needed to know about the company, boats, tours, guides, itineraries, etc. With my very first message to Greentracks, George answered promptly and was very professional. And then when I talked to him on the phone, well, that clinched it for me. He was very helpful in answering every question, offering solutions and suggesting viable options. Also, I must admit that all his suggestions were very helpful and he never failed me. I let him pick all the hotels and I never questioned his choices - never regretted it either. I think I’ll let him organize all my trips from now on! Plus, I had the feeling that Greentracks had a genuine interest in making me discover the true Amazon.

Arriving in Iquitos I was met by Joel, my Iquitos guide, who had a huge smile, and I immediately felt at ease. When we got to the hotel, and before I even walked in, Joel introduced me to Scott, GreenTracks’ Iquitos point man. A very nice introduction to my trip! I was impressed that he would be there for me. Felt very VIP. He gave me all sorts of information and time of departure for the cruise and took the time to sit and just talk with me.

Joel took me on the city tour, including the floating city of Belen, by motokar and canoe. He also took me to the butterfly farm. We had a special drink on the shore before leaving (an old man making ice from an antique manual ice crushing machine). Afterward, visited a local market where I had my first taste of the Peruvian watermelon, sitting right there in the market. I even went out dancing that night.

Solange and Joel

We went by bus to the small town of Nauta, where the M/V Clavero was waiting. Met Bill Lamar on the bus and he was very relaxed and friendly. On the way we stopped at a local roadside eatery where some of us tasted suri (grubs). NOT ME. But I tasted tacacho (mashed and fried plantain) with roasted pork and jungle grapes. Very good. I loved that stop and the local people were very friendly.

M/V Clavero

Bill Lamar and the adventurers

Ivonne Braga, Guide/Naturalist

I’m used to cruises leaving from big cities, but leaving from Nauta was the beginning of a very exciting and unique experience. We were welcomed on the ship and were each given palm-fiber bags with information and maps for the trip. Then boat rides, day and night treks in the jungle (especially the one walking over the logs), pisco sours, howling monkeys, bats, snakes, spiders; Dennis smiling and helping all the time; Rene very skillfully driving the small boat; meeting Antonio the fisherman, the natives, sloth pictures, black caiman; Ivy’s (GreenTracks guide) smile, jungle sounds, piranha fishing, etc. I really felt like an adventurer and could almost imagine myself alone on the Amazon, hearing strange bird and animal noises.... it was quite something. However, what made the cruise special was the care everyone took of us.

Group in front of a Ceiba tree

René Pérez with a Wolf Fish

Bill Lamar with a South American Coralsnake

Everybody was always smiling (even when we kept bugging them about the name of different animals we had on our cameras), very helpful, very knowledgeable, very funny, and the week went by too quickly. Of course I had charming and interesting traveling companions on this trip, too. I never once had the feeling that Bill had seen the same jungle a thousand times. We were all excited when we saw him catch the snake, handle the tarantula, etc. and he made it very different for each of us, according to our varied interests. That is a skillful art when you are with the same ‘’gringos’‘ for 7 days! There was never a dull moment on the boat. Ivy was unstoppable and we witnessed her MC skills when we met the indigenous people in the village of Bolivar, where they sang, danced and mimicked animal noises for us. Even at 06:00 hours on the deck with my coffee, Dennis and/or Ivy were there, bright and cheerful. But I must mention that everybody else on the boat owner’s crew was very nice to us, too. Always smiling, always bringing an extra glass of milk, pouring us drinks, etc. Forever grateful to Pablo for taking pictures of us.

Fried Piranha

Happy adventurers

The fact that I was escorted and given boarding passes every time I flew was impressive. The only upgrade would have been for them to carry me onto the plane! To tell you the truth, if GreenTracks traveled to all the countries I want to visit, they would be my one and only escorted tour operator! I only hope that George, Bill and their entire crew understand how much their help, suggestions, presence, efforts and behavior made this my very special birthday gift.