We didn't exactly follow the published itineary. The original plan involved a speedboat to Novo Aripuanã, slowly going upriver, then returning to Novo Aripuanã where we would take the speedboat back to Manaus. We started as in the original plan, with a speedboat from Manaus to Novo Aripuanã, at the mouth of the Aripuanã. To get there, the speedboat headed down the Negro and Amazon to the Madeira, then up the Madeira to the Aripuanã. At Novo Aripuanã, we boarded the Tumbira, a comfortable riverboat that had left Manauas a couple of days before us. However, we went the Aripuanã in only a couple of days, to get as far as possible while water levels were still good. We got about 150 miles upriver, then returned down the Aripuanã, birding in both directions. We had saved a bit of time, and instead of taking a speedboat back to Manaus, we stayed aboard the Tumbira and birded on the Madeira as we headed downriver to the Amazon. We also did some early birding on the Amazon on the last day, then cruised upstream to the Negro and Manaus.
The trip took us to a variety of habitats. We often birded terra firme forests, which required a climb of about 75 feet shortly after arriving on shore. One day, we hiked to a campina, an area of sandy soil containing scrubby vegetation interspersed with hammocks. We also birded areas of seasonally flooded forest. Since the Aripuanã is a clearwater river (little sediment or tannins), the seasonally flooded forest is igapo, as on blackwater rivers (little sediment, lots of tannins, rather like the sloughs of the Big Cypress). We also birded on the Madeira, a whitewater river (lots of sediment). There the seasonally flooded forests are called varzea. The big difference is that on whitewater rivers, the flooded areas get a big infusion of nutrients from the river every year. On clearwater and blackwater rivers, they don't. We also visited river islands in in the Aripuanã, Madeira, and Amazon. Some of the islands had been dry long enough that the ground was solid. On two, the ground had not dried out yet and was rather mucky. On the Amazon itself, the island we visited was mostly floode and we used canoes. We also birded near a couple of small communities and even around the town square in Novo Aripuanã.
We saw a variety of birds on the trip. I counted 354 species. About a half dozen taxa that we saw are currently undescribed. Bret and others are working on papers describing most of them. We also saw a mystery tyrannulet. We were unable to determine whether it was an unusual or aberrant plumage of a known species, or possibly a new species.
I saw 8 mammal species, but missed at least a couple that some other members of the group saw. One extra member of our group was a college student working on his senior project. He had placed a number of trail cameras when the trails were cleared shortly before the trip started. Most days he visited one or more cameras, and we got to see the results. Mammals that the camera saw that we didn't included Puma, Jaguar, Brazilian Tapia, and both Collared and White-lipped Peccaries.
Bret also spent time collecting data (photos, video, audio, and location) from some of the birds we saw, both known and unknown. There will have to be some adjustments to the range maps as a result.
These scientific activities contributed to the expedition feel of the trip, as did the large group of support personel. Two of the crew were not regular members of the Tumbira crew, but locals added for the knowledge of the Aripuanã. The crew and guides outnumbered the participants.
It was a very interesting trip. I would not recommeend this trip as a first trip to the Amazon basin. Rather, it is a trip to take once you have a bit of experience in the Amazon, especially if you are looking for something a bit more adventerous.