Ecuador: Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center Jan 06—15, 2012

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 guide Jorge, however, this forest is home, and he knows it intimately. Almost as soon as we arrived he began to put his knowledge and formidable skills to work. Our explorations had begun, and for the next week he 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.

The Amazonian rainforest is a place of many moods, sometimes dark and mysterious, perhaps even a bit threatening, yet at other times bright and breezy, making it a joy just to be here. Sometimes it was absolutely still as we drifted along in silence, wondering whether there really were any birds and animals out there in the amazing mass of tangled roots and epiphyte-laden trees. Then suddenly there "it" was, a motionless Agami Heron silently stalking in a quiet pool amidst the mass of tangled vegetation, or a spectacular Long-billed Woodcreeper that popped up right next to us at eye level, or two giant otters right next to our canoe. The frenetic antics of troops of squirrel and capuchin monkeys provided comic relief, and the brilliant blue flashes of passing morpho butterflies always elicited an "ooh" of appreciation. And who could ever forget the thrill of a calling Zigzag Heron appearing right in front of us, or the gorgeous pastel sunset just before a luminous full moon rose over the blackwater lake? Visits to the very sturdy tower took us into another realm, one of brightness and light, as we gazed out upon the endless green carpet of the canopy. Here, in the early morning hours, birds were active everywhere that we looked, from noisy flocks of oropendolas and caciques to colorful cotingas, Gilded Barbets, and toucans sitting up, sometimes even coming into "our tree." Later, down below, we walked in silence in the never-flooded forest, suddenly bumping into foraging mixed-flocks of antbirds and woodcreepers as they slipped back into the understory, and calling up secretive forest inhabitants like the Black-throated Trogon, Brown Nunlet, Rufous-capped Antthrush, and Ash-throated Gnateater.

A hike into the drier upland forest on the Tiputini Trail proved to be our most challenging excursion—and yet the most special. In this realm of towering trees and muddy trails we slogged towards our goal, a special grove where the Black-necked Red-Cotinga comes to display. Upon our arrival the loud and sharp calls of the bird greeted us, but it proved elusive, and initially all that we saw were rapid flashes of red hiding in the thick midstory before moving on. Then there was a discouraging silence, until suddenly Jorge came back to announce that he had found one perched. As quietly as possible we followed him through the understory—and soon had the bird in scope view. For the next 20 minutes we studied this glorious creature to our hearts' content. Apparently it was taking a break from displaying, for as soon as a distant bird gave one weak call, our bird perked up, raised its crest, and dashed away to noisily challenge the other male. Awestruck with our incredible success, we started the trek back, only to flush a male Salvin's Curassow up into a low tree where it sat for minutes, seemingly not knowing what to do about the intruders! Then, just around the bend, a male Lunulated Antbird responded to tape. Not only is this a scarce and range-restricted species, but it is also an especially beautiful antbird. A slight detour then carried us on tired legs up into a ridgetop grove where within minutes Jorge located a tiny—and stunning—Striped Manakin for us. We resumed our hike back, only to bump into a pair of Purplish Jacamars perched in a tree fall opening, and then, before long, a displaying male White-crowned Manakin. Such are the serendipitous pleasures of birding in these magical, moody forests!

Every day here brought wonderful sightings, from a displaying male Amazonian Umbrellabird to a well-concealed Spectacled Owl at its day roost. The parrot show at the clay licks was simply amazing, first with hundreds of Mealy, Yellow-crowned, and Blue-headed parrots coming to a bank on the great Napo River, and then at the forest interior cave where a shy Scarlet Macaw came down to the salty ground, just ahead of hundreds of Cobalt-winged Parakeets, with a smattering of gorgeous Orange-cheeked Parrots and Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlets. All too soon our week in the rainforest came to an end.