Softly, softly, catch the monkey..

Seeing mammals in the rainforest is tricky. The easiest are probably monkeys, because many species travel in groups, and you can hear them coming.  But mostly you get just a glimpse as they move swiftly through the treetops, or leap acrobatically overhead to cross a trail or a stream. Magical, but not a long look. Here are the best photos I managed in Ecuador.

(A confession: from time to time Marcelo, our guide at Napo Wildlife Lodge, grabbed my camera and disappeared. Somehow, he always found a tiny gap in the foliage and managed to get the monkey shot I would never have got. I can’t always tell you which Napo monkey shots he took, and which were mine, but he really liked my camera!)

These are Black-mantled tamarins, at Wild Sumaco:

Black-mantled tamarin

And their Golden Mantled relative, near Napo Wildlife Lodge:

Golden-mantled tamarin
Golden-mantled tamarin

The most common monkeys around Napo (in the Amazon basin) were the Red Howler Monkeys. At dawn, the males set up the most evocative chorus drifting through the forest as the sun rises. The young one in this photo is nicely showing off his prehensile tail, something found only in New World monkeys. (Taken from a rocking boat, by me!).

Red howler monkeys

Also common were the squirrel monkeys (who don’t have prehensile tails)

Squirrel monkey

Finally, we saw one group of Woolly Monkeys. They need primary forest, and our lodge was in an area protected by the local Kichwa people from all hunting, development, and oil extraction, so we were lucky enough to see them. It is not clear that he was so happy to see us…

Woolly monkey

 

“Wake the serpent not…”

Wake the serpent not—lest he
Should not know the way to go,–
Let him crawl which yet lies sleeping
Through the deep grass of the meadow!
Not a bee shall hear him creeping,
Not a may-fly shall awaken
From its cradling blue-bell shaken,
Not the starlight as he’s sliding
Through the grass with silent gliding.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

On a narrow trail at Wild Sumaco lodge on the eastern slopes of the Andes, the guide behind me suddenly gasped. Unseen by me, a slender snake had apparently slithered right between my legs into the leaf litter. It was just showing, in a shadowy corner, so I took a rather bad photograph from a respectful distance:

False coral snake, which went right between my feet. With eggs??

At the time, we didn’t notice, being rather focussed on the snake itself, but there seem to be eggs next to it. Whether they are the snake’s own eggs, or those of something else, I have no idea.

My guide then took a long stick, and gently moved away some leaves, and the snake emerged into daylight, allowing us to see its startling coloring, and changed its demeanor entirely, swaying its head side-to-side in a positively cobra-like manner:

False coral snake, which went right between my feet. With eggs??

Back at the lodge (by a different route!), we tried to identify it. The reassuring consensus was that it was a false coral snake, non-venomous. More specifically, the best match I can find is Lampropeltis triangulum, one of the milksnakes, though the yellow band across the back of the head is not typical (most of them have a whitish band). They are oviparous, so that fits too.

The coloration is an example of Batesian mimicry: with their spectacularly vvid coloring, they aim to deceive potential predators into confusing them with the truly poisonous Coral Snakes.

 

Back-to-front

As you know, I like looking at creatures from every angle, bottom as well as top. This tiny butterfly when its wings are open has those astonishing iridescent morpho-blue stripes, something almost impossible to capture on camera. If you look closely, there is tantalizing glimpse of a rather different-colored underside:

P1140780

And when it closes its wings, a entirely new butterfly appears:

P1140779

I found it hard to believe that these were the same butterfly, but they are. The guides call it the “89” butterfly, though its real name is Diaethria clymena, a type of Brushfoot.

Backs are not always a good clue to fronts either. All these photos are the same bird, the Masked Trogon, common in the cloud forests on the lower slopes of the Andes. From the back, the female (here feeding a moth to her young fledgling, just visible behind her) is a mousy brown color, not very exciting.

Female Masked Trogon, feeding young a moth

But then she flicks her tail:

Female masked trogon

And turns around:

Female Masked Trogon

As for her partner, as usual he is even flashier. Handsome from behind in a fairly restrained kind of way:

Male masked trogon.

But altogether brasher from the front:

Male masked trogon.

Especially when he puffs up his chest to impress the girls.

Male masked trogon.