Ecuador: Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center Jan 09—18, 2014

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 left the familiar behind and entered the world of the Amazonian rainforest. For our local guide, Jorge Rivanideira, however, this forest is home and he knows it intimately. As soon as we arrived he began to put his knowledge and formidable skills to work for us, and for the next week he found one spectacular bird after another. 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. 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 stunning Agami Heron hiding in the swampy understory, or a spectacular Long-billed Woodcreeper with a large prey item, a guan sneaking through the canopy, or a troop of Giant Otters popping up beside our canoe. The frenetic activities of troops of monkeys provided comic relief, while the brilliant blue flashes of passing morpho butterflies always elicited an “ooh” of appreciation. Who could ever forget the thrill of finally spotting the well-concealed Zigzag Heron on its nest, or watching displaying male umbrellabirds for 20 minutes, or the pastel sunsets just before a luminous moon rose over the lake? Such are the serendipitous pleasures of birding in these magical forests!

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 forest canopy. Here, in the early morning hours, birds were active everywhere that we looked, from noisy oropendolas to colorful cotingas, Gilded Barbets, and tanagers sitting up. All seven local members of the spectacular toucan family provided us with scope views, as did five members of the odd cotinga family, including the rarely-seen Purple-throated Cotinga. White-necked Puffbirds joined us in “our” tree, while pairs of tiny and colorful Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatchers and Golden-bellied Euphonias worked on nests only a few feet from us. Later, down below, we walked the never-flooded forest, bumping into small mixed-flocks of antbirds and woodcreepers as they faded back into the forest. A Rufous-capped Antthrush paraded across the open forest floor, male Golden-headed Manakins displayed in the midstory, and Jorge’s incredible eyes spotted a close roosting Long-tailed Potoo, camouflaged to look like a dead leaf. How he ever saw this bird we will never understand.

Hikes into the high-ground forests proved to be our most challenging excursions, yet in many ways they were the most special. In this realm of towering trees and muddy trails we found a nice variety of antbirds, including the recently-described Brown-backed Antwren, plus stunning forest interior species like the Yellow-billed Jacamar and Black-throated Trogon. The most special of all was a brilliant male Black-necked Red-Cotinga that sat in full view in the open midstory for a few brief moments.

Every day here brought wonderful surprises, from well-concealed Crested Owls at their day roost to a motionless Gray-breasted Crake on a young river island, to jewel-like Green-and-rufous Kingfishers zipping along the creek, and to spider monkeys swinging through the treetoops. The parrot show at the clay licks was simply amazing, first with dozens of Mealy, Yellow-crowned, and Blue-headed parrots coming to banks on the great Napo River, and then at the forest interior cave where shy Scarlet Macaws sat in the trees overhead, watching as hundreds of Cobalt-winged Parakeets and a smattering of gorgeous Orange-cheeked Parrots and Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlets came down to the salty mud.

All too soon our week in this amazing place came to an end, but the memories will linger forever. Our special thanks go to Jorge and all of the members of the Anangu community who made this visit possible.