Sacha Lodge, Day 2: April 7, 2009

Our first full day of birding turned out to be the birdiest of our stay in terms of the sheer quantity of different bird species seen. The morning was to be spent in the Kapok Tower, a wooden canopy tower built around a massive Kapok Tree that surveys out over terra firme forest in all directions from a height of 43 meters. First, though, we had to travel through várzea forest along the Orquidea Creek to get there, where the birding was so good that we could have easily missed the high activity period in the tower.

In the growing light, Ringed, Amazon, and Green-and-Rufous Kingfishers seemed to be perched on every overhanging tree branch, darting away as we approached further along the creek. The confiding Silvered Antbird moved about the tree roots, and we had great looks again at the Dot-Backed Antbird on several occasions; the Plumbeous Antbird was noted as well. The Orange-Crested Manakin and White-Chinned Jacamar, both várzea specialists, responded immediately to tape, perching for prolonged periods out in the open. A fast-moving flock with Amazonian White-Tailed Trogon and Cream-Colored Woodpecker passed quickly overhead, while the Red-Breasted and White-Bearded Hermits both came in close to inspect us interlopers. Most impressive though was surprising a Rufescent Tiger-Heron that flew back into the forest but was then spotted by Aimee, affording us all good looks of a bird that we would hear frequently but only see once on the trip.

Ascending to the top of the Kapok Tower, which is a little nerve-racking, we were met with clear but overcast weather, good for spotting birds at a distance but not ideal for photography. For the next three hours, the birds came fast and furious, as mixed flocks came and went in the canopy below, and Oscar and Ivan pointed out perched raptors in the distance with the scope. Highlights included Plumbeous and Crane Hawks, Red-Bellied Macaws, White-Eyed Parakeets, Ivory-Billed Aracari, Golden-Collared Toucanet, Gilded Barbet, Lafresnaye's Picculet, Spot-Winged Antshrike, Pygmy Antwren, White-Browed Purpletuft, Spangled Cotinga, Slender-Footed Tyrannulet, Yellow-Browed Tody-Flycatcher, Black-Capped Becard, Blackpoll Warbler, White-Lored Euphonia, Yellow-Bellied Dacnis, Turquoise Tanager, Masked Crimson Tanager, Flame-Crested Tanager, and Moriche Oriole. Those were just the highlights, too.

Throughout the morning a Three-Toed Sloth was visible in a variety of positions in the crown of a neighboring tree, moving slower than I could bear to watch after observing the restless activity of antwrens all morning. The tower was a little crowded mid-morning as we were joined by a group of bored French tourists, their naturalist guides earnestly attempting to interest them in some of the more colorful canopy birds. At one point there were fourteen people and four scopes whirling about the tiny platform, making for less than ideal viewing conditions, and I envied the way the Many-Banded Aracaris made room for each other in a distant tree.

With some good birds but no real rarities under our belts, we finally descended to the forest floor around eleven in the morning, walking the trails for a bit to pick up some understory birds. The Warbling Antbird, White-Flanked Antwren, Dusky-Throated Antshrike, and White-Breasted Wood-Wren were all encountered in the same area off one trail, and Ivan pointed out the perched Blue-Crowned Motmot through a small window in the undergrowth. He was already proving remarkably adept at locating understory birds in towering terra firme forest and positioning them in the scope faster than we could find them in our binoculars with the aid of Oscar indicating their position with the laser pointer.

Just before getting back into the canoe for the ride back to the lodge, we stumbled upon the Black-Faced Antthrush, a common but difficult to see terrestrial bird with a powerful call. The return trip down the Orquidea Creek was remarkable for crossing paths with the Euler's Flycatcher, an unremarkable but uncommon bird I would have had no chance of identifying without Oscar. We also passed under a roosting Boat-Billed Heron, which had been staked out by the guides beforehand.

After lunch, we weren't to reconvene until mid-afternoon, so I birded the grounds of the lodge while Aimee took a nap. After sweating it out on the docks for a while, I finally found a mixed flock at the forest edge up by the newer cabins. With the aid of the scope, I successfully identified the Red-Stained Woodpecker and noted both the Chestnut and Cream-Colored Woodpeckers as well. The showy flock also contained the Amazonian White-Tailed Trogon, Black-Headed Parrot, and Chestnut-Winged Foliage-Gleaner, and was led by the White-Faced Nunbird, hanging out for more than thirty minutes in the same area. Elated, I returned to the cabin to rouse Aimee, calling in a female Amazonian White-Tailed Trogon in a tree right next to our cabin.

We then met up with Oscar and Ivan to walk the trails towards the Canopy Walk, along which were the territories of many excellent birds, including the Wire-Tailed Manakin and Collared Puffbird. Unfortunately, not many birds were responding this afternoon, and these two in particular were sorely missed on this and several other occasions. Birding this afternoon was a little strange for me as it basically consisted of walking from territory to territory and using playback to draw the birds out from their hiding places. While seeing the Black-Tailed Leaftosser, Rusty-Belted Tapaculo, Sooty Antbird, and Wing-Barred Piprites was certainly amazing, I'm used to birding being a little more spontaneous, I guess. I would soon get used to this routine though, and would certainly grow grateful for it, as we were to see many difficult birds that we would have otherwise missed.

Ascending the Canopy Walk as the day grew to a close, we had our first taste of this magnificent structure. This 30 meter-high and 275 meter-long walk spans three metal towers, providing incredible access to a huge stretch of canopy, allowing birders to follow flocks as they move through the trees or to shift position for better vantages of perched birds. As a chorus of White-Throated Toucans rang out, the sky lit up a gorgeous pink with the setting sun, and we noted a lone White-Necked Puffbird perched nearby. We would spend a much-anticipated entire morning up here on our last full day of the trip.

Having brought my new spotlight on this excursion, I was eager to search for owls on the way back, and we successfully located the Tawny-Bellied Screech-Owl while only hearing the Crested Owl calling powerfully from a distance. As we walked back to the lodge in darkness, Ivan in the lead kept a look out for Fer-de-Lance which are often found on trails at night in the eastern lowlands. He also pointed out the Great Tinamous at its roost a few meters above the forest floor. How bizarre it was to see this reclusive bird illuminated clearly from out of the darkness, perched completely in the open on a bare tree branch.

Notable birds seen: Great Tinamous, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Boat-Billed Heron, Greater Yellow-Headed Vulture, Plumbeous Kite, Crane Hawk, Speckled Chachalaca, Plumbeous Pigeon, Ruddy Pigeon, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Red-Bellied Macaw, White-Eyed Parakeet, Dusky-Headed Parakeet, Black-Headed Parrot, Tawny-Bellied Screech-Owl, White-Collared Swift, Rufous-Breasted Hermit, White-Bearded Hermit, Straight-Billed Hermit, Gould's Jewelfront, Amazonian White-Tailed Trogon, Amazon Kingfisher, Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher, Blue-Crowned Motmot, White-Chinned Jacamar, White-Necked Puffbird, White-Fronted Nunbird, Gilded Barbet, Many-Banded Aracari, Ivory-Billed Aracari, Golden-Collared Toucanet, Lafresnaye's Picculet, Chestnut Woodpecker, Cream-Colored Woodpecker, Red-Stained Woodpecker, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Chestnut-Winged Foliage-Gleaner, Black-Tailed Leaftosser, Spot-Winged Antshrike, Dusky-Throated Antshrike, Pygmy Antwren, Warbling Antbird, Silvered Antbird, Plumbeous Antbird, Sooty Antbird, Dot-Backed Antbird, Black-Faced Antthrush, Rusty-Belted Tapaculo, Blue-Crowned Manakin, Orange-Crested Manakin, Wing-Barred Piprites, White-Browed Purpletuft, Spangled Cotinga, Bare-Necked Fruitcrow, Slender-Footed Tyrannulet, Ochre-Bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-Browed Tody-Flycatcher, Euler's Flycatcher, Cinnamon Atilla, Dusky-Chested Flycatcher, Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher, Black-Capped Becard, White-Breasted Wood-Wren, Blackpoll Warbler, Rufous-Bellied Euphonia, White-Lored Euphonia, Purple Honeycreeper, Yellow-Bellied Dacnis, Opal-Rumped Tanager, Masked Tanager, Turquoise Tanager, Masked Crimson Tanager, Flame-Crested Tanager, Moriche Oriole.

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