Ecuador: Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center Jan 10—19, 2010

Posted by David Wolf

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David Wolf

David Wolf is a senior member of the VENT staff and one of our most experienced tour leaders. After birding the U.S. and Mexico for over a decade, an interest in the wildli...

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To visit the Napo Wildlife Center is to enter another realm, one so totally different from our own that it is easy to feel "lost." Here we leave the familiar behind and enter the world of the Amazonian rainforest. For our local guides, however, this forest is home, and they know it intimately. Almost as soon as we had arrived they began to put their knowledge and formidable skills to work for us, spotting a lovely male Black-tailed Trogon as we started down the trail. Our explorations had begun, and for the next week they found one spectacular bird after another for us. Each excursion produced memorable sightings—small pieces of a very complex puzzle—and by the time we left we had begun to understand this unique environment a bit more.

We began with a visit to the Tower, a very secure marvel of engineering that gave us a wonderful perspective on the birds of the canopy, from larger species like the Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Many-banded Aracari, White-necked Puffbird, and Purple-throated Fruitcrow to the tiny tyrannulets and dacnis that came into "our" tree. A rarely-seen Black-faced Hawk was spotted, while other perched raptors included Gray-headed and Double-toothed kites, and Slate-colored Hawk. On our second day we took in one of the greatest sights of the area, the spectacle of hundreds of parrots coming to eat clay from "saladeros" near the Napo River. After watching hundreds of large and noisy Mealy and Blue-headed parrots, we hiked to a blind inside the nearby forest. Here we found dozens, perhaps even several hundred, of the tiny and rarely-seen Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlets amidst a noisy horde of Cobalt-winged Parakeets. A few exquisite Orange-cheeked Parrots pushed their way into the mob, while high overhead a perched pair of Scarlet Macaws kept an eye on things and a Broad-billed Motmot distracted us for awhile.
 
Some of our most amazing sightings were deep inside the terra firme forest. This may be the most luxuriant forest on earth, but nothing is easy about birding it. The trees reach to the sky in endless layers of foliage, while much of the understory and subcanopy is a jumbled mass that is difficult to see into. Here our guides magically found birds for us, like a perfectly-camouflaged Great Tinamou "frozen" motionless on the dark forest floor; a Lanceolated Monklet sitting unobtrusively 50 feet overhead; male White-crowned, Orange-crested, Wire-tailed, and Striped manakins (how did they ever spot them, least of all get them in the scope?); a Screaming Piha emitting its ridiculously-loud calls; sneaky antbirds and antthrushes; and a male Purple-throated Cotinga perched at the top of the very tallest canopy tree around. We thought that the stunning male Black-necked Red-Cotingas displaying in the subcanopy could not possibly be topped…until a surprisingly cooperative Yellow-billed Jacamar perched down low right in front of us!

Throughout the week our slow birding cruises along the creek were a highlight, as we listened to the cacophony of strange sounds, and spotted rarities like the adult Zigzag Heron hopping along a muddy creek bank, an Agami Heron at point-blank range, and the amazing Long-billed Woodcreepers rummaging in the dead palm fronds. We laughed at the antics of the white-fronted capuchin monkeys as they made great Tarzan leaps through the trees, while a giant otter popping up to spy on us and a family group of pygmy marmosets near their sap wells were rare treats. It was always a delight to unwind on the late afternoon canoe cruises around the placid lake, watching the comical Hoatzins and Donacobius—and keeping an eye on the huge black caiman gliding silently past us, looking truly primeval. All too soon our week in the rainforest came to an end and it was back to the shock of "civilization."