IE Blog

The booming call of a male howler monkey is one of sounds that typify the neotropical forests. From Belize, down through Central America through the Upper Amazon Basin and into Brazil’s Pantanal, there are six species of howler monkey. 

In Belize, the black howler is a resident of lowland broadleaf rainforest as well as semi-deciduous forest. The male black howler is, as its name implies, is very black in color. The black howler has a very long coat of hair with a long prehensile tail that acts as a fifth hand, which is very useful for an arboreal species. 

In Costa Rica, the mantled howler is the common howler species and they can be found over much of the country covered on our Costa Rica tours. They typically are not found above 2,500 meters in elevation. The male mantled howler is black with long rich reddish brown area of hair on its sides. This is the mantle thus giving the name to this very large monkey. 

In the Amazon Basin, the red howler is fairly common and is much more frequently heard than seen. This monkey is highly arboreal and the males are reddish brown in color. Even though they are fairly large, they often appear small when observing them. This is because of the size of the trees where they may be observed. In a large cannon-ball tree, the red howler appears quite small but if close observation is permitted, the red howler is actually a fairly large monkey. Guests on our Amazon River cruises are often treated to a glimpse of these primates during our frequent boat excursions.

In common, all of the howler monkey species have a very loud booming call. The black howler is regarded as having the loudest call in the neotropical forest. This is an amazing statement as there are incredible sounds that can be heard emanating from the forests throughout Central and South America. Birds, like screaming piha and the various parrots and macaws, can make incredibly loud calls. Bamboo rats and potoos also make loud and very unusual calls during the hours of darkness. Howler monkeys still hold the title of the absolute loudest call and like so many other things in natural history, the call has to be heard to appreciate it. 

The feeding preferences for howler monkeys are also quite interesting. Howler monkeys are folivorous, meaning they feed quite extensively on leaves. Leaves are low in nutrients so large quantities must be consumed. In addition, howlers produce copious amounts of saliva to assist them in breaking down leaves prior to swallowing. Any additional help in leaf digestion is important and this is just one adaptation that howlers possess to assist them in their feeding. Young leaves are also more desirable as they are more easily chewed and digested and the young leaves do not contain as much leaf toxin as mature leaves. Many herbivores prefer young leaves and buds over mature leaves for these same reasons.

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

A new program in Peru called The National Photovoltaic Household Electrification Program has installed more than 1600 solar panels in the impoverished Contumaza province, with plans to install about 12,500 solar (photovoltaic) systems which would serve approximately 500,000 households. The solar panels are free to the communities.

Energy and Mining Minister Jorge Merino said that the program will allow 95% of Peru to have access to electricity by the end of 2016. Currently, approximately 66% of the population has access to electricity.

“This program is aimed at the poorest people, those who lack access to electric lighting and still use oil lamps, spending their own resources to pay for fuels that harm their health,” said Merino.

The Contumaza province is part of Northern Peru’s Cajamarca region, which is best-known for its Moche temples at Trujillo and Chiclayo.



Our friends at Medjet Assist keep you updated on the latest in safe travel, including the STEP Program which is great for all international travelers!

Before the age of mobile phones and easy email access, international travelers used to register with the U.S. Embassy in each country we would visit. The idea was to let the American Embassy know of your presence in the area just in case there were any problems, either with the traveler or with the country.
The old system of registering with embassies or travel registration, as it was also known, has been replaced by the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program or “STEP.” The program is free and operated by the United States Department of State as one of the many travel services they offer.
Many travelers are aware of the country-specific warnings the government issues, but this program will deliver any appropriate warnings to your email address in real time. Instead of just checking in advance, now travelers can be alerted to problems during their trip.
Signing up for the program is easy and travelers can then receive detailed information about their destination country. Travelers also receive any updates, including Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts which are essential news updates and warnings provided by the U.S. government about specific destinations. These warnings and alerts can help us avoid problem countries and areas and are essential for international travel.
In addition to receiving warnings, the STEP system allows government authorities to contact and assist travelers in emergencies, political violence and natural disasters, should any of them strike. The system can be used to make communication easier with family back home in emergency situations.
Once enrolled in the system, travelers can then add and remove individual trips from their personal accounts, so the system always reflects the current, real itinerary. The system should be used by travelers, who can enter their travel itinerary and hotel information, and also Americans living abroad, who can supply their foreign address. The sign-up is done online on the State Department website and takes only minutes. The information collected is protected by government privacy laws and can only be used for travel-related purposes.
Register today at

The Nile crocodile is Africa’s largest reptile and it is certainly up near the top in being one of the most dangerous animals on the continent. A large Nile crocodile may reach close 20’ in length and as they grow beyond 12 feet in length, their girth and massive body proportions greatly increase with the additional growth. Truly magnificent creatures, Nile crocodiles will prey on virtually any animal that ventures near the water. A large crocodile may lay submerged in a mud hole, which during dry season may be the only standing water within miles and thus animals of all types come to the mud hole to drink. Most animals approach the mud hole with great caution but their life sustaining need to drink finally gets the best of them and they approach the water’s edge. It is at this time when a massive lunge from the water allows the croc to grab an animal anywhere from the size of a mongoose to the size of a large antelope or even a giraffe. Many guests on a Kenya safari have seen the migration of many thousands of wildebeest and zebra as they cross the Mara River, and the unfortunate ones that fall prey to the congregating Nile crocs that fill their bellies with fresh meat.

Also in Africa, many people are killed annually by Nile crocodiles as people venture to the water to bathe, collect water and fish. Large crocodiles are certainly apex predators but they do begin life in small vulnerable size. Upon hatching, baby Nile crocs are fed upon by birds, Nile monitor lizards, snakes, mongoose and a plethora of other animals taking advantage of a food source. Catching baby crocs is risky as female crocodilians protect their young and thus being on the lookout for mama croc is always necessary in ones safety. One night in Gabon, West Africa, we caught dwarf crocodiles as well as part of the research being done by Mitch Eaton. Our greatest fear that night was the bad-tempered forest elephants that did not take kindly to strangers!

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern W aildlife.

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Guests on IE's people-to-people Cuba tour may be suprised to learn that although Cuba has many endemic bird species, there aren't many mammal species endemic to the island nation. One little mammalian creature who does call Cuba home is the Cuban solenodon, a curious looking rodent with a powerful bite and an interesting history.

The creature that you may be familiar with that most resembles the Cuban solenodon is the shrew, but the island species is much larger than the little mice-like shrews we have here in the U.S. They do have the signature long nose, and typically weigh about 2.20 pounds. They're brown in color, and you may have a hard time glimpsing them, since they are nocturnal.

Cuban solenodons live in rock clefts, hollow trees or burrows, where they while away the daylight hours. The little creatures are quick, and can move quickly on the ground or scale surfaces to reach greater heights. But what truly makes the Cuban solenodon unique is the way it hunts.

These rodents have toxic saliva which they use to stun their prey. They're not solely vicious, venomous killers though. As omnivores, they use their elongated nose to sniff for roots, insects, fruit and leaves. They'll also dine on the occasional small lizard.

Unfortunately, the animal is quite rare, so don't expect to see it when you travel to Cuba. In fact, in the 1970s it was believed that the Cuban solenodon was completely extinct due to its slow reproduction rate and the introduction of predators to Cuba, such as the mongoose. House cats and dogs are also responsible for their decline. Fortunately, in 2003, an individual Cuban solenodon was captured, proving that it was not, in fact, extinct. They're now protected by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which has marked their status as "Endangered."

If you missed last week's webinar featuring an in-depth look at IE's new Bali tour and Indonesia cruise, here is your chance to get the scoop directly from Director of Program Development Bill Robison. Few places evoke the same lush, exotic imagery as the islands of Nussa Tenggara from Bali to Komodo. The beauty of the islands is legendary, their biodiversity astounding, and the rich tapestry of their cultures helps make International Expeditions’ new Indonesia adventures unforgettable.

As the sun sets over the Western skies of the Upper Amazonian rainforest, something quite magical occurs. The sky may be a glorious riot of colors which gradually give way to darkness. Darkness, like many people have never seen as there are no city lights to obscure the sky and very soon after dark it is obvious there are a trillion stars in the sky. Amazingly, constellations that may be most familiar to us are not apparent. Not only because we are now just south of the Equator, so the constellations of the southern hemisphere are quite different, but also because there are so many stars, it is considerably more difficult to distinguish constellations. Darkness is what it is supposed to be like…DARK!

Along with darkness comes a changing of the guard. The day time chorus of birds, the whistles of tamarins and the rhythmic cadence of cicadas gradually cease as these creatures go to roost. There is a very brief period of time when the rainforest is almost silent. This certainly does not last long and soon the first katydids begin calling and from emergent vegetation come the amazing buzz, whistles, cacks, trills, snores and croaks of a tremendous number of frogs. Incredibly, there are more species of frogs in the Amazon area of Iquitos than there are in all of North America. If a strange sound is heard, you can say it is a frog and in all probability you would be correct. This nocturnal serenade can only be appreciated “in person” during an excursion as part of IE's Amazon cruise. It is extremely difficult to describe the amazing diversity of sounds that are emitted from the darkness of the Amazon.

As if this is not enough, there are a few other sounds that typify the rainforest. The strange screeching of the world’s only nocturnal monkey…the owl monkey; the almost human like scream of the bamboo rat; and the eerie call of the potoo. The potoo is not an owl but instead they are a member of the Frogmouth family of birds. Their preferred perch is at the top of a broken off tree where they appear like an extension of the tree. In the beam of a spotlight, the eyes of the potoo appear like bright red embers. Almost crocodilian like in reflective shine but crocodiles do not climb up into the trees and potoos do not sit in the water, so the location of the eye-shine is very important in identifying the brilliant red embers in the shine of a light.

These then are just a few of the many sounds of the nocturnal serenade you'll find during our Amazonian rainforest tour. The best way to experience this is by excursion boat into one of the smaller tributaries feeding the mighty Amazon. From the safety of the small boat and entirely new world will open before your eyes and EARS!  

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

Having traveled on multiple IE adventures, I know that our guests are a truly savvy group with a wealth of advice on everything from navigating security to finding the perfect luggage. On the IE Facebook page we asked our travelers this question: 

What is your best tip for first-time adventure/expedition travelers?

Here is some of the best advice. And don't forget to weigh-in with your adventure travel tips in the comments section below.

Keep an open mind. The less you expect something to be a certain way the better the experience...this is especially true when traveling to Asia for the first time...or even the second, third or fourth :) Go with the flow of the native people. "When in Rome..." - Shannon W.

Email copies of all of your hotel & transportation itenerary and invoices AS WELL as the photo page of your passport to your self. In addition, carry two sets of copies of these with your on your journey. When asked for identification by local officials, present the copies instead of the originals first. Bureaucrats commonly loose or steal identity documents.. A valid U.S. passport can be worth thousands on the black market.- John L.

Pack light and follow locals you can trust. - John M.

Be flexible. William D.

Read about where you are going, copy all documents, have an open mind with few expectations, pack lightly, relax and enjoy. - Jackie R.

December 06, 2013

The Cuban Parrot: Guest Poetry

Travel to Cuba impacts everyone differently, and many IE guests have found themselves moved to poetry! A guest on our people-to-people Cuba travel program wrote a dozen poems about his experience—all are accounts of Cuba seen through the eyes of birds. James Blackburn's poetry includes stars of Cuba's endemic bird species: the Cuban trogon, the limkin, the Cuban tody and the smooth-billed ani.

The Cuban Parrot
By James Blackburn

In the mountains
North of Trinidad Cuba
Drinking mountain coffee.

The parrots assemble in the tallest tree
First two, then four, then ten
And then ten to twenty more,
All talking at the same time,
The turquoise blue wings and red neck
Standing in sharp contrast
To the green canopy.

As the coffee moves through my mind,
I see the parrots departing in pairs
And I look at my wife Garland
And see how we have flown through life –
A parrot pair moving together
From tree to tree,
Cackling and laughing,
Loving each other along the way.

The parrots move on and my cup is empty
And I feel the loss of connection
That comes from a cup of coffee
And a flock of screaming parrots
In the mountains
North of Trinidad Cuba
With my girl.


Click here to learn more about Cuba's endemic birdlife

The Galapagos hawk is an endemic raptor (bird of prey) and is the only diurnal endemic raptor on the islands. There are two other raptors, both of which are nocturnal owl species, the short-eared owl and the barn owl. The Galapagos hawk is a fairly large raptor very similar in size to the red-tailed hawk of North America. Like the red-tailed hawk, the Galapagos hawk is a buteo (broad-winged) hawk that relies on its sharp, powerful talons to capture prey. They prey on lava lizards, young marine iguanas, snakes, young birds and unlike many raptors, will scavenge on the remains of dead birds, sea lions and they will also feed on sea lion afterbirth. Galapagos hawks have a very unique method of nesting and breeding that allows them far greater success in raising young. A female will mate with as many as three or four males and all of the males will assist in caring for young. This method is called cooperative polyandry. Polyandry is not unique to Galapagos hawks, and other familiar polyandrous birds include spotted sandpipers, phalaropes and jacanas.

As with many raptors, female Galapagos hawks are larger than males. This allows females to take larger prey and thus a greater variety of species can be taken to feed hungry chicks. This species is one of the rarest raptors on Earth with less than 1,000 individuals on the islands. They can be observed, however, on all of the larger islands during your Galapagos Islands cruise. Young birds are somewhat cream-colored on the breast with bold streaking. Adult birds become almost chocolate in color by three years of age. Raptors are always a joy to observe and due to the openness of the habitats on the islands, the Galapagos hawks are very easily observed, sometimes for long periods of time.

Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.

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