Ecuador: Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center Jan 07—16, 2011

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. 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.

In spite of the constant climate of the western Amazonian rainforest, sightings of the birds and other inhabitants of this environment are anything but static and predictable. Factors that we have only just begun to understand are at play in these forests and make for surprising variation from year to year (and even day to day). This trip will be remembered as "the puffbird trip of all-time," with a surprising 10 species of this family seen, far more than usual. That Marcelo and Remi ever managed to spot the Collared Puffbird and Lanceolated Monklets high up in the multi-layered canopy was amazing—and we sure appreciated the great scope views! Manakins were also more cooperative than expected and we located 8 species total. The unanswered question is, "Why were these birds more findable than usual?" Was it rainfall, temperature, food resources, or a combination of all three? Or was it the persistence and great eyes of our local guides, or just plain luck? For now we cannot answer these questions, but must simply consider ourselves fortunate to have seen these wonderful birds and so many others.

Each day here brought surprises. A perched Oilbird on our first cruise up the creek seemed totally out-of-place, far from any caves where they are known to occur, while the neck-breaking Great Jacamars on that same trip proved to be the only ones seen all week. We had incredible luck with the rarely-seen Zigzag Heron, viewing adults sitting on two nests on multiple occasions and finding another one hopping around on a creekbank not 10 feet away from our canoe. The parrot show at the clay licks was as amazing as usual, while stopping on a young river island that same day took us to a very different environment. Here we saw specialties like the White-bellied Spinetail (how does this weak-flying bird colonize these new islands?), River Tyrannulet and, best of all, a tiny Gray-breasted Crake that our guides surrounded and gently pushed into full view right at our feet.

A hike into the upland terra firme forest took us to a special grove of trees where a brilliant male Black-necked Red-Cotinga displayed in full view, and a sneaky pair of Black-bellied Cuckoos finally yielded great looks. Visits to the Tower, a very secure marvel of engineering, gave us a perspective on the birds of the canopy. Perhaps most enjoyable were those that came into "our" tree, including White-necked Puffbird, Many-banded Aracari, and Gilded Barbet, but we were also lucky to spot perched Black-faced Hawks and a distant Crested Eagle from the Tower.

Relaxed birding from the canoe occupied most afternoons and we became well-acquainted with such perennial favorites as the Hoatzin and Donacobius, but also called up specialties of the swamp forest like the spectacular Long-billed Woodcreeper and cute Dot-backed Antbird.

All too soon our week in the rainforest came to an end, and it was back to the shock of "civilization."