Ecuador: Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center Jan 03—12, 2013

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 their home, and they know it intimately. As soon as we had arrived they began to put their knowledge and formidable skills to work for us, quiet Jorge always alert and listening intently, while outgoing and amiable Remi never missed a thing with his incredible eyes. 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 little bit more.

Visits to the Tower, a very secure marvel of engineering, gave us a wonderful perspective on the birds of the canopy. We saw all 7 local members of the toucan family from the Tower, including a stunning male Golden-collared Toucanet below us, while pairs of White-necked Puffbirds and Gilded Barbets actually visited us in “our” tree. Spangled Cotingas and Purple-throated Fruitcrows shimmered in the morning light, two rarely-seen Slaty-backed Forest-Falcons sat up in good view on both visits, and one morning our guides found us a magnificent Collared Puffbird in the understory before we even made it up the Tower!

Throughout the week our birding cruises along the creeks were a highlight, as we spotted rarities like the Zigzag Heron that magically appeared in the spotlight, a stunning adult Agami Heron, the pair of Salvin’s Curassows that only moved a few feet back from the bank, and the amazing Long-billed Woodcreepers that finally yielded good views. We laughed at the antics of the Capuchin Monkeys as they made great Tarzan leaps through the overhanging trees, and we spotted roosting owl butterflies and morphos in the shrubs. Colorful gems like the Green-and-rufous Kingfisher and Masked Crimson Tanager were always appreciated. Our canoe commutes across the placid cocha were also productive, from the giant—and very primeval—Black Caimans right next to our canoes to the family group of 7 Giant Otters that fished their way along the shore.

One of the great sights of the area is the spectacle of hundreds of parrots and parakeets coming to eat clay from the banks along the Napo River, and we were not disappointed. After watching the large and noisy Mealy, Yellow-crowned, and Blue-headed parrots, we hiked to a blind inside the nearby forest. Here the birds were reluctant to come down into view, but with patience we saw the tiny Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet and gaudy Orange-cheeked Parrot amidst a noisy horde of Cobalt-winged Parakeets. All the while a pair of Scarlet Macaws perched high overhead kept an eye on things.

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 is a jumbled mass that is difficult to see into and the trail is a morass of mud in places. The rewards are great, however, and on our hike this lucky group was treated to an adult Ornate Hawk-Eagle screaming at us from a canopy perch, a lengthy scope study of a brilliant male Black-necked Red-Cotinga, several little Yellow-billed Jacamars perched low and close, a Screaming Piha emitting its ridiculous loud “song,” and great views of male White-crowned and Striped manakins. (How did they ever spot these tiny birds, least of all get them in the scope?)

Each eagerly-awaited dawn that we were here arrived with the eerie roaring of the Red Howler Monkeys, like phantoms on a distant wind, but the evening cruises really captured the mystery of the rainforest—the cacophony of strange sounds, the bats snatching moths confused by our spotlight, the sparkles of bioluminescence on the floating vegetation, the Great Potoo that appeared like magic… All too soon our week came to an end and it was back to the shock of civilization. We owe a special thanks to Jorge and Remi for a great trip, and we wish the entire Anangu community continued success in operating this very special lodge.