Giving to
Bryn Mawr

Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center

Amazon River Cruise A Birding & Natural History Odyssey

aboard La Estrella Amazonica
With Victor Emanuel Nature Tours

January 8-17, 2015

We invite you to join us on a birding and natural history odyssey to the Amazon, led by Weecha Crawford ’60, Professor Emerita of Geology and birding enthusiast. The Amazon region conjures many images, but it is, above all, a realm of superlatives. The centerpiece of this vast region is the Amazon River itself, the largest river in the world. In fact, many of its tributaries rival or exceed the size of other great rivers of the world. The Amazonian region also boasts the highest diversity of both birds and plants anywhere in the world. During the course of the trip we’ll explore small wooded streams, lakes, seasonally flooded forest (várzea), and flooded river islands. Toward the latter part of the trip, we’ll spend some time walking in tall, high ground forest. Here or nearby we may find a fruiting tree frequented by colorful Araçaries, tanagers, and honeycreepers, or an army ant swarm with its attendant antbirds and woodcreepers.

The very word “Amazon” brings to mind images of broad, sinuous rivers, tree-lined banks, strange animals, bright butterflies, torrential rains, and glorious sunsets. Along the rivers one may see macaws and parrots and oropendolas flying overhead, ponderous Horned Screamers rising from stream banks and exotic wildlife that includes Hoatzins, Umbrellabirds, sloths, fresh-water dolphins, and monkeys coexisting in this untamed area.

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Preliminary Itinerary
(please click on location to reveal details)


Day 1: Arrive Lima

Arrive Lima. You should plan your flights to arrive Lima, Peru (Jorge Chávez Lima-Callao International Airport, airport code LIM) any time today. After clearing immigration and customs you will be transferred to your hotel. Most flights from the United States arrive sometime late evening. When making your airline reservations, bear in mind that you may want to arrive as early as possible in the evening as we are offering an optional trip on Day 2 to a wetland near Lima that is sure to have many birds. If time permits, we recommend arriving a day early in order to rest and to allow for flight delays that are sometimes associated with winter weather in your home areas. Please be aware that those participants who are delayed may not be able to make the Saturday morning flight (Day 3) from Lima to Iquitos and would be at risk of being unable to reach the ship prior to its departure.

NIGHT: Sonesta El Olivar Hotel, Lima

Day 2: Lima including Pantanos de Villa Marshes and Pucusana Fishing Village

Because travelers may have arrived late last night we will have a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and depart at 8:00 a.m. for our trip southward toward the picturesque coast of Pucusana. We will have an opportunity to see some fine coastal marshes, a good cross-section of the stark Atacama Desert of western Peru, and many of the seabirds typical of the cold, rich waters of the Humboldt Current just offshore. Today we should see about 50 to 60 species of birds, most of which will not be seen elsewhere on this trip. These may include Humboldt Penguin; White-tufted and Great grebes; Peruvian Pelican; Peruvian Booby; Neotropic and Guanay cormorants; several egrets and herons; Least Bittern (hard to find); Puna Ibis; White-cheeked Pintail; Cinnamon Teal; Harris’s and Variable (Red-backed) hawks; Plumbeous Rail; Slate-colored Coot (with several different frontal shield colors); Common Moorhen; Peruvian Thick-knee (now scarce); Band-tailed, Grayhooded, Kelp, and Gray gulls as well as migrant Franklin’s Gull (Oct-March only); Inca Tern; Pacific Dove; Croaking Ground-Dove; Amazilia Hummingbird; Wren-like Rushbird; Surf Cinclodes; Many-colored Rush-Tyrant; Vermilion Flycatcher (black morph in Lima, normal red ones along the coast); Long-tailed Mockingbird; Peruvian Red-breasted Meadowlark; and Grassland Yellow-Finch. We should be back by late afternoon and will dine in the hotel this evening.

NIGHT: Sonesta El Olivar Hotel, Lima

Day 3: Lima to Iquitos, Peru

Our flight to Iquitos is currently scheduled for a morning departure from Lima and our activities once we reach Iquitos will depend, in large part, upon the amount of time we have available. If our flight is early there may be some time available for birding and/or a short drive through the food market area of Iquitos before lunch. Our afternoon activities will be determined by when the ship is outfitted and when we will be permitted to board, but we are sure to have some time to get settled in and have a little time for a short outing.

At the waterfront at Iquitos we should see many common and more widespread birds along the river. These species should include Cocoi and Striated herons, Great and Snowy egrets, Turkey and Black vultures, Plumbeous Kite, Roadside Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Large-billed and Yellow-billed terns, and Oriole Blackbird. If time permits, our late afternoon exploration of the Amazon will begin with a short visit to a river island or young river edge vegetation. All of the river islands should be flooded, or mostly so, at this time of year, which makes access to island habitats by boat relatively easy. There are more than twenty species of river island bird specialists here, almost all of which occur in one of four or five island vegetation types: tall grass (Gynerium spp.); willow (Salix) and Tessaria; Cecropia and Heliconia spp; and mixed Ficus trees. Some river island habitat bird species we could see include Short-tailed Parrot; Tui Parakeet; Olive-spotted Hummingbird; Plain-breasted Piculet; Lesser Hornero (sand bars); White-bellied, Parker’s and Red-and-white spinetails; Castelnau’s Antshrike (mainly older islands); Leaden Antwren; Black-and-white Antbird; Brownish Elaenia; River Tyrannulet; Lesser Wagtail-Tyrant; Riverside Tyrant; and Pearly-breasted Conebill. Other species we could see on or in the vicinity of river islands include Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture; Wattled Jacana; Canarywinged Parakeet; Greater and Smooth-billed anis; Ringed and Amazon kingfishers; Spotted Tody-Flycatcher; Great Kiskadee; Brown-chested and Gray-breasted martins; White-winged and Southern Rough-wingedswallows; Orange-headed, Blue-gray, and Silver-beaked tanagers; Grayish Saltator; Red-capped Cardinal; Russet-backed Oropendola; Yellow-rumped Cacique; Yellow-hooded blackbird; Shiny Cowbird; Lesson’s, Chestnut-bellied, and Caquetá seedeaters.

NIGHT: La Estrella Amazonica, Río Amazon

Day 4: Early morning birding Amazon tributaries near the junction of the Ríos Marañon and Ucayali

We will be off the ship early for exploration of river island and várzea (floodplain) habitat, most likely in the vicinity of the Quebrada Yarapa, which is near the junction of the Ríos Ucayali and Marañon. A sampling of birds this morning could include most of the species mentioned yesterday as well as Wood Stork; Gray-headed and Snail kites; Black-collared and Slate-colored hawks; Pale-vented Pigeon; Dusky-headed, White-eyed, and Cobalt-winged parakeets; Greater Ani; Black-tailed Trogon; Green Kingfisher; Black-fronted Nunbird; White-eared Jacamar; Chestnut-eared Araçari; Crimson-crested Woodpecker; Pale-legged Hornero; Striped and Straight-billed woodcreepers; Barred Antshrike; White-headed Marsh-Tyrant; Short-crested Flycatcher; Masked Tityra; Bare-necked Fruitcrow; Black-capped Donacobius; Buff-breasted Wren; Blackbilled Thrush; Red-eyed Vireo; Hooded and Turquoise tanagers; Thick-billed and Purple-throated euphonias; Silver-beaked and Masked Crimson tanagers; Yellow-rumped Cacique; and Russet-backed Oropendola. There is also a good possibility of seeing Pink River Dolphins and perhaps even Gray River Dolphins. We should be back aboard ship late this morning. By mid-day we hope to reach the bifurcation of the Amazon into the Ríos Ucayali and Río Marañon. Upriver on the Rio Ucayali we will be traveling along the border of the vast Pacaya-Samiria Reserve. We will continue to watch sand bars and river banks for new species, including such characteristic species as Pied Plover and Drab Water Tyrant. We will make our way up the Ucayali this afternoon, stopping for a late-afternoon excursion. After dinner tonight or tomorrow night we may be off the ship for our first (optional) night excursion by small boat, perhaps on the Quebrada Supay, a tributary of the Río Ucayali, or another nearby tributary. It is difficult to predict what we might see on night excursions, but Boatbilled Herons, Common and Great potoos, and Ladder-tailed Nightjars are all possible, as well as opossums or other mammals and occasionally tree boas.

NIGHT: La Estrella Amazonica, Río Ucayali

Days 5-6: Amazon River / Río Ucayali.

During these two days we will explore small streams, rivers, riverbanks and maybe even a river island or two as we gradually make our way up the Río Ucayali. Along relatively narrow and heavily forested streams, we should continue to see species typical of várzea forest, although the taller forest and narrower channels of some creeks here should give us opportunities to add many new species each day. A sampling could include almost any of the species mentioned previously, as well as Horned Screamer; Black Caracara; Hoatzin; Muscovy Duck; Ruddy Pigeon; Gray-fronted Dove; Mealy and Festive parrots; Sand-colored Nighthawk; Short-tailed Swift; Glittering-throated Emerald; Scarlet-crowned and Lemon-throated barbets; Spotted Puffbird; Cream-colored Woodpecker; Dark-breasted Spinetail; Long-billed Woodcreeper; Great and Black-crested antshrikes; Amazonian Streaked-Antwren; Plumbeous, Band-tailed and/or Black-chinned, and Silvered antbirds; Black-spotted Bare-eye; Plum-throated Cotinga; Greater Schiffornis; Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet; Forest Elaenia; Social Flycatcher; and Velvet-fronted Grackle.

On our second day, as we continue exploring up the Río Ucayali, we will encounter an increasing number of black water rivers and lakes such as Dorado Creek. A small Amerindian village is located at the head of this Creek but it is otherwise an uninhabited region. On past trips we have recorded Wattled Curassow, Crested Eagle, Tiny Hawk, Collared Forest-Falcon and other large birds along this creek and their presence suggests that the wildlife here is not persecuted. Even if we do not find any of these species (all rare) we are sure to find many other interesting birds. During mid-day and early afternoon we will reposition the ship again, moving further upriver, perhaps as far as the mouth of Zapote Creek. A small native community is located a short distance up the Zapote and the area beyond their village is designated as a reserve where they do not hunt. Consequently, this area also is particularly good for primates, raptors and other large birds. If we reach Zapote Creek, we’ll depart in our skiffs for a late afternoon excursion up this beautiful stream, with the possibility of remaining out until after dark, before returning for dinner. On these evening excursions we often see Common or Great potoos, and sometimes a Tropical Screech-Owl, or Common Pauraque or Ladder-tailed Nightjar, but there also is the possibility of finding frogs, a small caiman, various kinds of insects, and occasionally even a snake with our spotlights. And, just being out enjoying the many exotic night sounds, and the star-filled sky is sure to be memorable.

NIGHTS: La Estrella Amazonica, Río Ucayali

Day 7: Dorado and/or Zapote Creek.

If we were able to anchor near Zapote Creek overnight, we’ll likely be out along this stream early this morning, or on another similar tributary of the Ucayali where we will continue to explore the area from small boats. Because the upper part of this river is a particularly wild area, we’ll get an early start. This is a good region for waterbirds and waders, as well as parrots and parakeets, and we may see pairs or families of Blue-and-yellow Macaws, and even Scarlet Macaws along the river. In the upper portions of Zapote creek we have had good success with raptors, and have, on past tours, recorded both Harpy Eagle and Crested Eagle here, as well Gray-headed Kite, Hook-billed Kite, Slender-billed Kite, Buckley’s Forest-Falcon and commoner species such as Black-collared Hawk and Slate-colored Hawk. A sample of other birds here might include almost any of the species mentioned on days 3 and 4, as well as Capped Heron, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Green Ibis, Great Black-Hawk, Speckled Chachalaca, Sungrebe, Sunbittern (scarce), Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Black-throated Mango, up to five species of kingfishers, Gilded Barbet, Forest and Yellow-crowned elaenias, Cinnamon and White-eyed attilas, Lesser Kiskadee, and Gray-capped Flycatcher. This also is an excellent area for primates and among the possibilities are Red Howler Monkey, Squirrel Monkey, Saddle-backed Tamarin, Dusky Titi-Monkey, Brown capuchin, and perhaps even the unusual Monk Saki (scarce and retiring). Late morning will find us back aboard our ship as we prepare to retrace our route back down the Río Ucayali. We will reposition ourselves downriver near the junction of the Marañon and weigh anchor for the evening. Time permitting we will make a short excursion by boat to a nearby river island or stream.

NIGHT: La Estrella Amazonica, Río Marañon

Day 8: Morning exploration of river islands and travel up the Río Marañon for late afternoon birding.

We will be spending the morning exploring river islands or, depending upon where our boat is positioned at dawn, perhaps exploring slowly up one of the hundreds of small creeks and tributaries that feed the main Ucayali and Marañon rivers here. Continuing some of the activities that we began our first afternoon in the channel of the Amazon, we will be looking for a number of river island bird specialist species that live almost exclusively in the various early successional stage vegetation on islands. River islands vary enormously in size, in age, and in vegetation structure but all of them harbor interesting arrays of birds that are generally fairly easy to see. Many of the species possible this morning have already been mentioned previously under the list for day two. Because of the ever-changing nature of the islands from one flood season to another one never knows what combinations or birds to expect, or even if a particular island has survived the previous high-water seasons. Typically, on these islands we may expect, from youngest vegetation to oldest: 1) sand bars, often with low colonizing grass; 2) marshes and tall grass; 3) small shrubby trees known as Tessaria (Asteraceae family) which attract birds that forage for insects on its leaves; 4) willows (Salix); 5) Cecropia of various ages; 6) large Ficus (figs); 7) on the oldest islands a more advanced and diverse array of trees that resemble second growth habitats on the mainland. Each of the various habitats harbor an array of interesting bird species and a good many of these birds are found nowhere else. We will try to reach several of these habitats by small boat and, of course, there will always be many other more widespread species ranging from herons, egrets, vultures, hawks and caracaras to kingbirds, saltators, orioles and seedeaters on the islands. On any morning visiting river islands, it is possible to see an astonishing variety of species (more actually than in the forest) because of the greater visibility of species in these semi-open habitats. This afternoon we’ll begin moving up the Río Marañon River to position our ship close to our final destination where we plan to spend our last morning. Again, depending upon our schedule, we may be able to disembark en route for another late-afternoon river exploration by small boat.

NIGHT: La Estrella Amazonica, Río Marañon

Day 9: Río Marañon above Nauta.

We should be anchored an hour or two above Nauta this morning, in preparation for our morning activities which will be our first land-based birding excursion to terra firma or high-ground forest. There also will be a boat trip available for those that do not wish to walk in the forest. However, we encourage everyone to consider visiting the high-ground forest in order to experience a different forest community. We will have access to trails that access the high ground forest, and perhaps surprising to many, high-ground forest in the Amazon is usually not flat but somewhat hilly. We will spend the morning birding and exploring upland, forest and some forest edge habitats and will almost certainly encounter a rather different, community of birds here that is sure to include more antbirds and furnariids and manakins than is possible during water-based exploration of small streams. However, forest birding activities are typically more difficult and greater patience will be required to see some of these forest dwelling birds. This region of terra firme forest is typically somewhat drier and better-drained than várzea forest although it is likely that trails may still be muddy in places. In general terra firme forest is biologically the most diverse ecosystem in the Amazon, with a greater diversity of birds per unit area than any other forest ecosystem on the planet. It is also one of the most challenging habitats in which to see birds, requiring our utmost concentration, but the rewards can be high. Obligate army ant-following antbirds occur here, sometimes with as many as a dozen individuals gathering and bickering as they pursue prey fleeing from the ants. Here mixed species flocks also reach their greatest diversity, with flocks forming both in the canopy and in the understory. When both groups join, as they do occasionally, one can experience an astonishing array of birds from the understory to the canopy. Birds that forage in mixed species flocks typically move rapidly through the forest, and they present an exciting if sometimes frustrating experience for human observers trying to see them. With patience and concentration, however, many species can be seen.

A sample of mostly forest-based species that we may see here could include any of the following: Cinereous Tinamou; Gray-fronted Dove; Squirrel and Black-bellied cuckoos; Black-tailed, White-tailed, and Violaceous trogons; White-necked Puffbird, White-fronted Nunbird, Yellow-billed Jacamar; Lemon-throated Barbet; Manybanded Araçari; Chestnut and Red-necked woodpeckers; Rufous-tailed Foliage-gleaner; Plain-brown, Amazonian Barred- and Buff-throated woodcreepers; Plain-winged, Cinereous, and Dusky-throated antshrikes; Plain-throated, White-flanked, Long-winged, and Gray antwrens; Peruvian Warbling-Antbird; Black-faced, Scale-backed, Bicolored, Spot-backed, and White-plumed antbirds; Rusty-belted Tapaculo; White-bearded, Golden-headed, Blue-crowned, and Striped manakins; Dwarf Tyrant Manakin; Thrush-like Schiffornis; Screaming Piha (amazing voice!); Violaceous Jay; Black-billed, Hauxwell’s, and White-necked thrushes; Dusky-capped Greenlet; Fulvous Shrike-Tanager; Flame-crested, Green-and-gold, and Paradise tanagers; Buffthroated Saltator; and Slate-colored Grosbeak. Following our morning outing we will return to the ship for lunch and the ship will being making its way back down to Marañon to the Amazon. It is possible that we will reach the bifurcation of the Amazon, where it splits into the Ucayali and Marañon, a little before nightfall. Our ship will then continue toward Iquitos, stopping long enough for us to make one last small boat excursion on a stream before dusk. Later tonight we will tie up close to Iquitos, or at Iquitos, in preparation for our departure tomorrow morning.

NIGHT: La Estrella Amazoncia, Río Amazon near Iquitos

Days 10-11: Morning departure from La Estrella Amazonica; flight from Iquitos to Lima.

We will disembark La Estrella Amazonica this morning and transfer to the airport in Iquitos in preparation for our flight to Lima. Because flights are sometimes delayed out of Iquitos to Lima, we have not scheduled any afternoon activities in Lima. Depending upon arrival time, part of the afternoon should be available for resting and repacking for international flights. There will be a farewell dinner this evening after which you will be able to walk to the airport prior to your international flight home. Most flights will depart for the USA after 10:30 p.m., arriving in the USA early the following morning (January 19). Participants wishing to avoid the rigors associated with a lengthy overnight flight should consider spending the final night (January 18) in Lima and taking an international flight the following morning. Arrangements can be made for overnight accommodations in Lima at an additional charge. Please contact the VENT office to confirm these arrangements.

DAY ROOM (Day 10): Costa del Sol Ramada Airport Hotel, Lima
NIGHT: Aboard International Flight

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Cost and program Inclusions


The cruise fee includes breakfast on day 2 through dinner on day 10; hotel and ship accommodations as stated in the itinerary; internal Peru flights (Lima-Iquitos-Lima)*; domestic departure tax; ground transportation during the tour; group transfers and baggage handling between airport, ship, and hotel; shore excursions and river cruises as described; laundry service while onboard the ship; gratuities to crew or staff of La Estrella Amazonica; and the services of on-board leaders and lecturers.

Not included in your cruise fee is roundtrip airfare from your home to Lima and return; alcoholic beverages; phone calls; laundry other than that provided by the ship; excess baggage charges; international departure taxes; passport or visa fees (if applicable); accommodations, meals, and transfers prior to joining/after tour; personal and baggage insurance; all items of a personal nature; and gratuities to the Expedition Leader, Cruise Director or the trip naturalists. Rates are based upon group tariffs; if the tour does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may have to be charged.

*Please Note: Domestic airfare Lima-Iquitos-Lima is included in the tour fee above. At the time of printing the approximate cost of these air segments is approximately $430 but is subject to change without notice until the time of ticketing. Victor Emanuel Nature Tours reserves the right to assess a surcharge for this air ticket should costs increase before ticketing.

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Faculty Study Leader

Maria Luisa Crawford
Maria Luisa Crawford

Our Bryn Mawr faculty host is Maria Luisa Crawford, Emerita Professor of Geology. Her research is focused on solving the history of mountain belts (such as the Coast Orogen of British Columbia and southeastern Alaska or the older Appalachians in Pennsylvania) by looking at as many different aspects as possible of the kinds of rocks, the time the rocks formed, the location in which they formed, the way the earth moved.

Her ongoing research programs have the aim to understand mountain building processes and related terrane accretion. This has focused on the nature, rates, and timing of the processes that resulted in the mountains formed along the present eastern margin of North America during the early Paleozoic (550-350 million years ago) and along the northwestern coast of British Columbia and southeastern Alaska from the Cretaceous (110 million years ago) to the present.

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La Estrella Amazonica

The ship – La Estrella Amazonica is a classically-styled Amazon riverboat, but with a catch: it is also custom designed for low environmental impact. Cabin sizes are approximately 220 sq. ft. and furnished either with one king-size bed or two beds, two nightstands, writing desk with chair, and a closet with ample storage space. All cabins are air conditioned, and, for electricity, are outfitted with three 110/220 volt outlets. Outside, each cabin features a private balcony with two chairs. Other attractions include an air-conditioned Lecture Room, Fitness Room, and a cover, open air bar on the Sun Deck. An open-air top deck offers incredible wildlife viewing by day and stargazing by night.

Technical Information

  • Length: 141 feet; Width: 29.5 feet
  • Built: 2013
  • Registry: Peru
  • Passenger Capacity: 31; Staff and Crew: 14

Dining –
The riverboat’s spacious window-lined dining room accommodates all passengers in a single seating with tables unassigned. All meals are served buffet-style using fresh local ingredients when possible. The chefs prepare a range of culinary options to accommodate everyone’s tastes, including vegetarians. Participants with special dietary needs should inform our office at the time of registration.

While on the boat –
While cruising the river, you’ll have options to join your leaders on the viewing decks for birding and wildlife viewing, or relax in your room, on deck, or in the Lecture Room. The January-March period is generally a time of high water on the Amazon River, but cruising conditions should be smooth throughout the voyage.

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