Peru Butterfly Trip

Time flies! — It’s been a month and a half since my last posting, but for good reason. I was off to Peru for a month looking at butterflies, and have been wading through the more than 3500 photographs that came home with me ever since. I’ll post a few of the pictures from the trip here and will have a lot more on my website soon. The two-part trip was organized by Kim Garwood, expert and author of several books on Neotropical Butterflies and arranged with David Geale, another expert at identifying South American butterflies with Tanager Tours. Part I was in Southeast Peru working our way from Cusco down the Manu Road, where we were joined by two other good butterfly photographers from October 21 to November 3. Returning to Lima, one of our participants had to get back to work, but we were joined by three others for Part II to Oxapampa, Pozuzo, Satipo, Pampa Hermosa, and Tarma before heading for home early on November 21. They were a great group to travel with, our driver was excellent at dealing with some pretty rough roads and passing slow-moving trucks on winding mountain roads, and most of our accomodations and food were of surprisingly good quality.

After arriving in Lima about midnight for the first part of the trip, early the next morning we flew to Cusco to meet David and our driver for the drive to our first hotel in Ollantaytambo, our base for working the 4300m (14,000′) pass at Abra Malaga for a couple of days. The weather wasn’t great for butterflies most of the time there, but we did see a number of new for me species.

Pedaliodes amafinia

Pedaliodes amafinia

There was also a variety of good hummingbirds seen, including the Giant Hummingbird, Shining Sunbeam, Great Sapphirewing, White-bellied Hummingbird, and this Bearded Mountaineer on the hotel grounds.

Bearded Mountaineer

Bearded Mountaineer

Then we spent a night in Cusco before heading off to Manu and the Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge for five nights and where I’d stayed on my first trip to Peru in 2004. The lodge is named after bizarre-looking national bird of Peru, which we’d occasionally see at several places on the trip.

Cock-of-the-Rock

Cock-of-the-Rock

Manu Road is renowned for its large number of butterfly species in good forest habitat over quite a range of elevation, which we explored from the pass at 3600m (close to 12,000′) down to 600m (about 2000′) over about ten days. Tons of butterflies there and every night Kim and David would spend hours helping us identify what we’d seen that day. I still have a lot more work to do on some of mine, though, since my copious notes were helpful but not quite comprehensive. Here are a couple of the better butterfly pictures from that part of the trip, including this cool Corades ulema, one of five species of Corades we saw.

Corades ulema

Corades ulema

Quite possibly my favorite butterfly genus (it’s hard to narrow down to just one!) are the fuzzy-footed Anteros, including Anteros bracteata.

Anteros bracteata

Anteros bracteata

I didn’t realize how many different species of this genus existed, having only seen single ones on other trips, but on this trip I photographed four different species and think David had closer to eight. Another very cool butterfly is the Panthiades, including this one whose species is still TBD.

Panthiades sp.

Panthiades sp.

One particular day at a spot named Quitacalzon (1050m) was absolutely incredible. The weather conditions and habitat were perfect and David’s bait was drawing in every butterfly in the neighborhood. In this small area, we’d work the road a few hundred yards and up and down a fairly short trail into the woods – every time we’d repeat the circuit several new butterflies would magically appear to be added to the trip species list – a memorable day!  The two pictures above of the Anteros and Panthiades were taken that day as well as these next two.

Prepona pylene eugenes

Prepona pylene eugenes

It was thrilling to see Leprieur’s Glory, about the only butterfly picture I took on my first trip to Peru in 2004 and one I’d hoped to see again on this trip.

Asterope leprieuri

Asterope leprieuri

Different species appeared at the different elevations we’d pick to check on other days. Moving up the road to 2000m in elevation produced these two, the Oleria attalia,

Oleria attalia

Oleria attalia

and one of four Myscelus species I’d see, Myscelus phoronis.

Myscelus phoronis

Myscelus phoronis

Even right by the Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge, we’d see some incredible butterflies, the Epiphile orea being one of the more stunningly colored.

Epiphile orea

Epiphile orea

At one damp area higher up the road, the most amazing damselflies were darting about their wings glowing an electric blue as they flew by; one I managed to spot perched on a leaf with the sun reflecting that glow.

Damselfly

Damselfly

After nearly a week at Cock-of-the-Rock, we headed downhill to the Villa Carmen Biological Station at 600m for the next couple of days.   Always fascinating are members of the Charaxinae subfamily, the Leafwings. This Zaretis (possibly Z. isadora or Z. falcis) does a remarkable imitation of a dead leaf, showing those two incredible holes and slightly separating its forewing and hindwing on landing to emphasize the illusion.

Zaretis sp.

Zaretis sp.

After our stay at Villa Carmen we headed all the way back up the road to the Wayqecha Biological Station in the full-on cloudforest at 3000m.  It rained heavily for most of our last night at Villa Carmen and started up again the next morning. This made for an exciting departure as our driver gunned the engine to cross a nearly two foot deep fast-moving stream crossing the road, which otherwise would’ve trapped us on the other side. Less exciting was coming to a landslide at a waterfall higher up the mountain past the Cock-of-the-Rock Lodge, where a bunch of people were busy chucking rocks over the side to clear the road for the few buses and cars lined up waiting to continue on their way. After several hours, the road was cleared enough for the first two or three buses and trucks to cross, but then one bus stopped just as it was clearing the rubble. Turns out it had a flat tire and, nope, no spare, so it took about another hour to somehow patch and inflate the tire before it got going again.

Landslide

Landslide

But finally we were on our way again and made it to Wayqecha in time for dinner. Working a bit downhill from the station the next day, we had this Polygrapha tyrianthina, which would occasionally open to display a dazzling magenta and blue color.

Polygrapha tyrianthina

Polygrapha tyrianthina

After two nights at Wayqecha, we made the long drive back to Cusco for the night and then flew back to Lima to let Jim get back home for work and to await the arrival of three new friends for Part II.

We set off early the next morning on an all-day drive over 4800m (15,800′) Ticlio Pass to our first stop, Oxapampa, and the delightful Albergue Turistico Bottger. We’d cross the pass again on our way back at the end of the trip and it wasn’t until I got home I realized the pass is higher than any mountain in the continental U.S. or Europe. Staying in Oxapampa for three nights, we spent the days finding a few good butterflies at Yanachaga Chemillen National Park and Bosque Shollet despite the weather being a bit too cloudy. The weather improved as we made our next to the fascinating little town of Pozuzo, where we enjoyed our stay (and the food!) at Albergue Familiar Frau Maria Egg. This small isolated mountain town was settled in the 1800’s by a small group of Austrians and Germans who have kept some of their home country traditions. Oxapampa was also founded by German immigrants, which may explain why the bread and cheese in these places is better than anywhere else in the country.

With five nights in Pozuzo, we explored the surrounding area from 800m to about 1200m over the next days, including two days working a loop from the Yanachaga Chemillen National Park Ranger Station up the road past a bridge and back down a forested trail and across another bridge seeing a great variety of butterflies. A few of my better pictures of some of them include one of a number of firetip species we’d see in the coming days, the Mimardis sela,

Mimardaris sela

Mimardaris sela

a secretive Owl Butterfly, Caligo idomeneus,

Caligo idomeneus

Caligo idomeneus

the spectacular Haemactis sanguinalis, commonly known as the Lipstick Skipper,

Haemactis sanguinalis

Haemactis sanguinalis

one of several Doxocopa species, which display dazzling blue when open,

Doxocopa laurentia

Doxocopa laurentia

and an incredibly cool species I’d seen at a distance on earlier trips but had only inches away on this trip, the Arcas imperialis.

Arcas imperialis

Arcas imperialis

After really great butterflying during our stay in Pozuzo, we headed back up the rough unpaved road back through Oxapampa and on to the town of Satipo for the next 3 nights. This ended up being mostly an opportunity to catch up on our notes and reviewing pictures, since the weather turned rainy and really limited our butterflying opportunities, although we did pick up one or two species. So it goes.

Moving on from Satipo, we headed on to Pampa Hermosa Lodge for the next four nights and some excellent butterflying. It takes some effort to get to the place, but we all considered it well worth it once we got there. Changing vehicles in San Ramon from our comfy Mercedes Benz Sprinter van to a smaller and older 4WD vehicle of unknown make, we then drove on a tortuous 1.5 hour drive to the lodge at the end of a very rough 24km road. The lodge was just fabulous, with electricity, hot water, superb food, and well-taken care of by the staff. Close by a huge waterfall and a river, we’d have a great time exploring the area and seeing plenty of butterflies.

Hiding in the shadows was this transparent butterfly, which we think might be Cithaerias pyropina (I’d thought it might be Haetera piera, but we were at the wrong elevation for that species).

Cithaerias pyropina (?)

Cithaerias pyropina (?)

On the lodge grounds we’d see both Gorgophas chlorocephalus and Gorgopas trochilus, butterflies gleaming emerald green.

Gorgopas trochilus

Gorgopas trochilus

Pretty much everywhere during the trip we’d see the glorious Rhetus dysonii, and I couldn’t help but take their picture as common as they would become.

Rhetus dysonii

Rhetus dysonii

Along the beach, huge puddle parties of numerous butterfly species would gather when the sun was shining and always interesting to spot new ones as the day progressed.

Marpesia corinna

Marpesia corinna

And at any time anywhere in the area, and almost the definition of the neotropics for me, were the brilliant blue Morpho butterflies gliding through the forest. For once, I finally managed to get a photo of one perched on the ground with its wings open.

Morpho menelaus

Morpho aurora

To give a sense of how big that guy is, that much smaller emerald green one on the right (Caria chrysame psittacus) is maybe an inch across.

Of course, in addition to all those amazing butterflies were an astonishing variety of other creatures. One of the bugs that caught my eye was this colorful specimen,

Beetle

Beetle

and there were quite a few grasshoppers about, this picture reminding me of one I’d taken on my first trip to Peru in 2004.

Grasshoppers

Grasshoppers

Along the road near Pampa Hermosa were a few more domestic critters, including cats, dogs, pigs, ducks and chickens. It was interesting to see how effectively the latter were at snatching butterflies right out of the air, an activity we actively discouraged until we at least got a good look at the subject prey.

Rooster

Rooster

With our time about up, it was back down the 24km road to an overnight staging stop in Tarma, back up over Ticlio Pass (with a short stop on a sunny day for a couple of high elevation species for our list) and back to Lima for the flight home just after midnight. An excellent trip with a great group of friends and loads of pictures I’m going to enjoy working through.

 

 

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About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
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16 Responses to Peru Butterfly Trip

  1. Vicki Dern says:

    I so enjoy traveling vicariously with you. Even the grasshoppers in Peru look fantastic.

  2. Absolutely amazing pictures. I wish I had all of them hanging in my living room!

  3. Mike Powell says:

    Amazing photos of such exotic butterflies (and other creatures) and a fascinating narrative of your trip. About a dozen times as I went through your posting, I made my mind up that a certain photo was my favorite and then I’d come across another one that captured my eyes and it would become my favorite one. Wow!

  4. Rebecca Gracey says:

    Joe, What a nice detailed report of a fabulous trip. Your variety of pictures are amazing.

  5. Johnna says:

    Sign me up for the Lipstick Skipper! How fun. Glad you survived the terrain! yikes!

  6. don stoltz says:

    What bait was used? Rotten fish?

  7. Sylvia says:

    Oh, my! Simply spectacular! Wow. Wow. Wow. I really want to do a trip like this someday!

  8. Shannon says:

    I love the leaf-mimic, though all of your photos are stunning. I guess it’s pretty impossible to take a bad picture of a butterfly, huh?

  9. joeschelling says:

    Oh, I might have a few bad butterfly pictures around here somewhere 😉 but yeah, if (in the words of Kim Garwood) they “want to be famous” and pose nicely the pictures can come out pretty good.

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