Ecuador: Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center Jan 07—16, 2016
Posted by Paul Greenfield
A week of immersion into the world of Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center touches you at many levels—the raw, crude reality of life on Earth from a perspective that most people never get to experience—its beauty, its natural complexities, its challenges and rewards; a world of mega-biodiversity where you only get to see a mere smattering no matter how hard you try to or want to see everything; the Amazon rainforest reveals its precious secrets in bits and pieces. As we ventured into this world, it quickly became apparent that some external force might be altering conditions throughout the region…as the days passed we experienced consistently abnormal hot temperatures and absolutely no rain—strange for this “rainforest” environment. It seems that the infamous El Niño was dealing an unexpected blow to us all.
Our adventure began at Yasuní Ecolodge, which we reached after a half-hour flight from Quito, a brief transfer through the oil-town of Coca to a dock along the shores of the “café-con-leche” colored Río Napo, and a 2 ½ hour motor-canoe trip to a muddy landing on the south bank of the river. We took good advantage of this location to visit areas along the Río Napo, and just birding the Añangu Community and Yasuní Lodge surroundings on our first afternoon was a great initiation to experiencing this incredible avifauna. The following morning we headed out in a motor-canoe along the Napo for an early morning stop on a river island beach where we eventually got decent views of a male Amazonian Umbrellabird and a sleeping pair of Roseate Spoonbills. We then floated past two saladeros (salt licks) where hundreds of parrots (Yellow-crowned and Mealy amazons, Blue-headed Parrots, and Dusky-headed Parakeets) were gathered to ingest the clay that would help detoxify them from their primarily seed-fruit diet. We then disembarked on a river island to search for species that specialize in this particular habitat: Olive-spotted Hummingbird, Black-and-white Antbird, White-bellied Spinetail, Lesser Wagtail-Tyrant, and Oriole Blackbird among them, including an exceptionally close encounter with a beautiful Gray-breasted Crake. We finished up the morning with a memorable visit to a forest saladero where we thrilled to hundreds of Cobalt-winged Parakeets and a nice band of Orange-cheeked Parrots—we had to duck our heads down when this mass of noisy birds flushed from the “lick” and jetted right at and past us! A lone Scarlet Macaw was a true highlight as it descended to the ground to lap up the mineral-soaked water (that formed a pool where parrots and other animals congregate), and a Green Manakin stopped by to greet us, too.
We spent much of that afternoon in a paddle-canoe, exploring Añanguyacu—the main black-water artery that leads to Napo Wildlife Center Lodge. Water levels were extremely low (barely passable due to a weeklong absence of local rain and none in the Andes either), and the provocative sights, smells, and sounds enveloped us as we advanced. Highlights were many—aside from two separate Red Brocket Deer, each watching us curiously as we floated by, we were graced with memorable views of Rufescent Tiger-Herons; our first Hoatzins (crazy!) and Greater Anis; Common Potoo; Ringed, Green-and-rufous, and Pygmy kingfishers; White-chinned Jacamar; Silvered and Dot-backed antbirds; Buff-throated Woodcreeper; Cinnamon Attila; Coraya Wren; Black-capped Donacobius; and Gray-headed Tanager; we even got decent looks at a Least Bittern as we entered the lake (Añangucocha) and neared the lodge, with the setting sun as a backdrop.
The following four days involved hiking forest trails, perching ourselves atop two canopy towers, and canoeing aound Añangucocha (the lagoon) along narrow streams and canals in the vicinity of our lodge. Each outing unveiled another piece of the incredibly complex puzzle that lay before us, and although the diversity of birdlife may have been our primary focus, it was impossible not to revel in our serendipitous encounters with Woolly, Squirrel, Dusky Titi-, Monk Saki, and White-fronted Capuchin monkeys, Golden-mantled Tamarins, or Two and Three-toed sloths. Our repeated close encounters with a pair of Giant Otters will never be forgotten—as they consistently captured strange looking fish after fish and proceeded to devour them right alongside our canoe, totally ignoring our intrusion. But, back to the birds…from the Napo River Trail and Kurimuyu towers, we spent three mornings engaged in what really constitutes a “big sit,” as we carefully scanned 360º over the forest canopy to the tune of King Vulture; Double-toothed Kite; Black-faced Hawk; Amazonian Trogon; White-necked Puffbird; Gilded Barbet; Many-banded and Ivory-billed araçaris; nesting White-throated Toucan; Crimson-crested Woodpecker; Red-throated Caracara; Blue-and-yellow Macaw (flying right by us!); Chestnut-fronted Macaw; Pygmy Antwren; Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher; Yellow-margined Flatbill; Dusky-chested Flycatcher; Plum-throated and Spangled cotingas; Purple-throated Fruitcrow; Bare-necked Fruitcrow; White-browed Purpletuft; Flame-crested, Turquoise, Paradise, and Guira tanagers; Blue Dacnis; Green Oropendola; and Rufous-bellied Euphonia; to name a few species.
From our paddle canoe, (both day and night), we found some great species (some fantastic close views too!) during our various outings, including Spix’s Guan; Zigzag Heron (initially spotted by Jorge at night without a flashlight!); Least Bittern; Boat-billed Heron; Little Cuckoo; Black-banded Owl; Blackish Nightjar; Great and Common potoos; Rufous-breasted and White-bearded hermits; Green-backed Trogon; Cream-colored Woodpecker; Bat Falcon; Red-bellied Macaw; Amazonian Streaked-Antwren; Plumbeous Antbird; Long-billed, Striped, and Straight-billed woodcreepers; Swainson’s (first record for NWC!) and Sulphur-bellied flycatchers; Orange-crowned Manakin; Hauxwell’s Thrush; Red-capped Cardinal; and Masked Crimson-Tanager. Perhaps our most challenging birding was experienced inside this Amazonian forest along the Napo River, Tiputini, and forest saladero trails where the general viewing conditions along with the un-characteristic El Niño-infuenced heat gave us a run for our money, along with some exciting gifts! Spix’s and Blue-throated Piping-guans; Great-billed Hermit; Collared Puffbird; Fasciated, Mouse-colored, and Dusky-throated antshrikes; Black-faced, White-shouldered, and Spot-backed antbirds; Rufous-capped Antthrush; Rufous-tailed Flatbill; Citron-bellied Attila; and Screaming Piha are noteworthy, but perhaps most memorable were the tiny Dwarf Tyrant-, Blue-crowned, (the spectacular) Wire-tailed, White-crowned, and Golden-headed manakins, along with the male Black-necked Red-Cotinga we observed so nicely along the Tiputini trail…so wonderful!
We finally departed NWC in the pitch-black pre-dawn and slowly canoed our way back along Añanguyacu to the Río Napo and then to the Kurimuyu Tower, an adventure that included a nail-biting Amazonian-style stand-off with a really huge Black Caiman. Later, in the afternoon, as we, with heavy hearts, made the motor-canoe trip return back to “civilization” and the town of Coca, we couldn’t but begin to reflect upon the magical Añangu area we had just experienced: its rich natural treasure—deemed the world’s number one biodiversity hot-spot by a team of international biologists and ecologists—and its mysteries, along with all that we managed to see and hear, and even those wonders that kept themselves hidden from us. How wondrous and unique is this tiny Amazonian hideaway and how precious is our Planet Earth. I guess civilization somehow doesn’t seem so civilized sometimes. As we settled into our urban hotel for the night, we (all but one of us) were already anticipating our upcoming adventure on the Eastern Slope of the Andes tour—even more wonders to relish.