Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Amazonian birding

29-Nov to 5-Dec 2007

The continuing Ecuaudor vacation

After leaving Guacamayos Ridge we took the road out east towards our evening destination, Casa del Suizo lodge on the River Napo. En-route we did a few birding stops, the most spectacular being on the Loreto Road. We birded the first 2km or so finding a substantial feeding flock that kept us active until a sudden sharp shower forced us to cover. In the space of about 45 minutes around 25 species were seen, most of them new.

Our itinerary meant that we needed to push on and we bumped through this poorer part of Ecuador noting the change in birds from the foothill glamour pusses to the lowland ‘trash’ species such as Smooth-billed Ani and Ruddy Ground-Dove. Arriving on the river bank we bade farewell to the trusty van. Luis would be over-nighting with us before returning to Quito without, as he cheerfully said, stopping all of the time. We boarded the slim craft and sped down the river. Suddenly we were being passed by flocks of birds, Sand-coloured Nighthawks with a total of c350 in numerous loose groups. This was ticks all around time, even for Scott. Later enquiries revealed that this species is not seen to frequently, serendipity was with us again.

Casa del Suizo is quite swish, set high on the banks of the river with a luxury pool and pleasant bar/restaurant. Light faded fast and we soon settled down to a meal, the daily bird log and then some welcome sleep. I arranged with Scott to take advantage of the first hour of daylight birding a local marsh, weather permitting.

Rain overnight relented and a couple of Ladder-tailed Nightjars flirting around the chalet roofs were new. We walked through the sleepy village and tried to tempt the Rufous-sided Crakes that inhabit a damp field to show, no joy though but I was able to add the species to my moving grass list. After breakfast it was time to board the boat for the lengthy trip downstream and we (actually I) settled back in the newly installed deck chairs for the fairground ride offered by the narrow boat and the high seating position. Sandra was not keen on this and after birding one of the islands, and seeing Parker’s Spinetail well, we altered the arrangement to Sandra’s relief.

Birding from the boat was fairly relaxed and we passed Cocoi Herons, Swallow-winged Puffbirds and small bands of hirundines as we made our way to Coca. In Coca we awaited the arrival of the rest of the transferees by entertaining ourselves with a few nice birds and some interesting refugee animals. In Coca we enjoyed refreshments and were introduced to our new group member John, another Californian but from the sunny end and Marcelo, our Sacha guide and legendary demon birder. Pablo, our native guide also joined us, the team were ready to go.

We sped downriver for a couple of hours and eased into the Sacha Lodge moorings ready to do some true Amazon birding. We paused on the dock waiting for the non-birding tourists to go away and commenced the first of several trips down the boardwalk picking up new species as we went.

Here is not really the time to go into too much detail about the birds seen during our stay at Sacha, my trip report will do then when written. Needless to say, Sacha was everything it says it is and the birding, although hard work at times and pretty intense, was very rewarding.

Sacha Lodge is reached by water only. Once the boardwalk has been traversed you climb into a narrow canoe and are paddled down a creek and across a lake. This is very atmospheric, especially when lightening is flashing across the sky and the heavens open as happened on one such crossing., it is also a pleasant way to bird and we utilised the canoes on several occasions to good effect. The lodge hoves into view once the creek is cleared and the jungle experience truly begins.

Our time at Sacha included a trip to suicide towers, the 50m high walkway strung between three gantries guaranteed to produce brown trousers in those, like me, who don’t like heights. There is also a wooden tower which is wrapped around a sturdy Kapok tree. At ‘only’ 40m I ventured up it and, while it may not be quite brown trouser time, I was definitely touching cloth.

Our schedule also included birding the river islands for the specialties found there and the terra firma forest on the south shore. The north shore and flooded forest or varzea hold different species and we covered both. We also visited two parrot licks, banks where several species of parrot come to ingest clay, an antidote for the poisonous fruit they sometimes eat.

I like to think we birded hard, we never shirked a challenge, plunging off trail in pursuit of antthrushes and manakins when Marcelo led and trying so very hard for some of the night birds. Our last night was spent plunging through undergrowth as a Crested Owl led us a merry dance in pitch black. How dangerous this may have been I neither know or care, we tried but failed although the scuttling Scorpions seen in the torch beams as we made our way back for dinner were good entertainment.

Sacha was a fabulous experience, we would go back tomorrow without a blink and perhaps a few years hence we will. We left still seeing new species and left steamy Coca for the swift flight over the High Andes. Our trip still had legs, next stop Tandayapa.

Now a few photos. The jungle is pretty dark so not much photograph took place. A later post will have views and clips from the parrot licks.

Punk rocker bird, a Mottled Elaenia at Casa del Suizo

Brown-chested Martin, enjoying a hot flagpole in Coca.

Pied Plover, the Neoptropical equivalent of Egyptian Plover.

Hoatzin, as seen earlier. Common around the lagoon at Sacha, their curious spitting, hissing and grunting calls give them away, also the fact that they move through the vegetation like a grand piano helps to locate them.

From the boardwalk, a Great Potoo. We saw it on the way in along with Common Potoo, a sort of welcoming committee.

King Vulture, always looking for a free meal.

Brown Nunbird, a good bird of the forests that is brown but looks nothing like a Nun.

Double-toothed Kite. This immature entertained us for a while as it inexpertly fell from its perch.

Orange-crowned Manakin, looks nothing like a manakin.

Purplish Jacamar, patiently waiting for a meal.

Ladder-tailed Nightjar, nap time by the river.

Parrot lick view, the licks were spectacular, go see for yourself.

Hairy-crested Antbird, lousy picture I know but just look at that eye.

You looking at me? A Boat-billed Heron enjoys a grandstand view while we were creek birding.

White-necked Puffbird looking down from his lofty perch.

Green & Rufous Kingfisher. The two small kingfishers (the other is American Pygmy) have long been on my want to see list, we got them both.

Two special herons were possible at Sacha. Zigzag eluded us, Agami didn't. Taken from a moving boat in the dark!

Yellow-browed Antbird, looks more like a warbler.

Black-fronted Nunbird, common around Sacha.

Spectacled Owl peeping out of its nest site atop a palm.

Smooth-billed Ani, a trash bird but who cares?

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