Sacha Lodge, Day 1: April 6, 2009

The first leg of the journey from Quito to Sacha Lodge is typically accomplished by an abrupt thirty minute plane ride up over the eastern cordillera of the Andes and down to Coca, a hard-edged jungle town. Guests are quickly shuttled via open-air bus from the airport to the safe confines of a comfortable courtyard near the Napo River. After a brief orientation and some lunch, we set off downriver in two large motorized canoes, passing through increasingly less-settled terrain. Birders should maneuver their way stealthily to the front of the boat, scanning the treetops and the sand islands for birds during the trip.

With Oscar Tepuy already at our side, we had little trouble picking out a dozen common birds of the eastern lowlands, including the Cocoi Heron, Ringed Kingfisher, White-Winged and White-Banded Swallows, Russet-Backed Oropendola, and Yellow-Rumped Caciques. Moving quickly there was little chance to study these birds in detail though, and considering most of them would be sighted daily, maybe it's best to relax a bit and appreciate the landscape of the trip. At various places along the river, the oil industry is apparent, and the high-security compounds of various drilling stations make for quite a contrast to the towering humid forest that borders most of the river.

About two hours from Coca, we put in at La Finca, which is the docking compound for passengers to Sacha Lodge. Here it didn't take long to spot a few more bird species, including the Swallow-Winged Puffbird, Plain-Brown Woodcreeper, and Violaceous Jay. There was also a troop of Common Squirrel Monkeys and a miniature Pygmy Marmoset moving around the edge of the riparian forest; the non-birding guests were certainly excited by these first two mammal species.

Along the path to the lodge, which takes about twenty minutes to walk and several hours to bird, we heard a number of good bird species calling, including the Undulated Tinamous and Purplish Jacamar, but we saw very little perhaps due to the time of day, it being already mid-afternoon. Oscar was already impressing me with his intimate knowledge of bird territories though, and I was struck in particular by his ability to rouse birds by whistling their calls from afar as we approached. (He would then whip out his iPod and powerful speakers to draw birds in even closer.)

At the end of the boardwalk passing through várzea woodland and forest, we borded a small canoe and were paddled across Pilchicocha, the oxbow lake that the lodge itself borders. There are few sensations more pleasant than gliding along effortlessly over an oxbow lake, raising your binoculars left and right as new bird species appear on all sides (of course, someone is always paddling you forth expending considerable effort, I imagine). Striated Heron, Hoatzin, Social Flycatcher, and Red-Capped Cardinal all made their first appearance during this final tranquil leg of the journey.

After another general orientation to the lodge, which in truth made me a little antsy, and a quick cup of coffee, we were out on our first true birding expedition, heading for the Orquidea Creek and a pass through várzea forest, this time by canoe. Noting Pale-Vented Pigeon and Greater Ani on the trip over Pilchicocha, we then slipped silently into a narrow canal with bromeliad-laden trees hanging over from both sides. With a little coaxing we were soon just a few meters away from a perched Dot-Backed Antbird, the male posed inquiringly at the tip of an exposed branch, the neat rows of delicate white dots clearly visible on its black back.

Touring around the lake in the late-afternoon light we saw large groups of Red-Bellied Macaws and Cobalt-Winged Parakeets flying overhead, the distinctly colored wings of both birds clearly visible from below. We also spotted the Black-Crowned Night-Heron perched in a palm high above at its regular roosting spot, its large red eyes staring emptily down at us. With promises of owling on the following night, we docked before sunset, as the Greater and Lesser Kiskadees blurted out their last calls of the day. From the dock Aimee and I watched several noisy Hoatzin come in to roost and remarked on a Green Ibis perched awkwardly on the top of a palm on the opposite side of the laguna.

After confusing huge fruit bats for nighthawks, I decided to call it a day, making my way to the dining hall where we would enjoy the first of many delicious meals with Oscar for company. I should note that the food at Sacha is quite good, served buffet-style with many options for vegetarians at each meal. The rooms are spacious and comfortable and generally free of the bugs and lizards commonly found at other lodges.

Notable birds seen: Anhinga, Cocoi Heron, Striated Heron, Black-Crowned Night-Heron, Green Ibis, Red-Bellied Macaw, Greater Ani, Hoatzin, Ringed Kingfisher, Swallow-Winged Puffbird, Dot-Backed Antbird, Violaceous Jay, Red-Capped Cardinal.

No comments:

Fatbirder's Top 500 Birding Websites