Sacha Lodge, Day 4: April 9, 2009

Although Aimee and I had been down the Napo River on a previous visit to the eastern lowlands, we had yet to witness the famous parrot and parakeet clay licks on the northern edge of Yasuní National Park. Our third full day at Sacha would include a visit to these sites, a lengthy excursion by trail through terra firme forest, and various small stops along the way. Though not without its own share of ups and downs, this was definitely our richest day of the trip in terms of different habitats visited and variety of birds seen.

The national park is about thirty minutes downriver from La Finca, with the riparian and river island habitat becoming increasingly pristine along the way. As it was just after dawn, on a few occasions I had to wake Aimee up for the Anhinga, Amazonian Umbrellabird, Osprey, Collared Plover, and Roseate Spoonbill, the latter of which was feeding alone on a sandbar in the middle of the river. As we approached the parrot lick, large flocks of Orange-Winged Amazons, Cobalt-Winged Parrots, and Dusky-Headed Parakeets were seen flying above the southern bank of the Napo, including a group of Chesnut-Fronted Macaws that was being chased by a Bat Falcon. My imagination started to run wild as I wondered how a modest exposed cliff could support so many birds at once. Would the light be good enough for decent photographs, I speculated prematurely?

The scene at the parrot lick was a little ridiculous in terms of the quantity of tourists present. Although there is decent infrastructure at the site, including a cement path leading to a spacious blind, the atmosphere was cramped and chaotic as over one hundred non-birding tourists jostled us for position and asked to look through our scope. Ironically, not a single parrot descended from its perch high above to feed on the clay, which it eats to neutralize the toxins it ingests while consuming various fruits and seeds during the day. As it turns out, a tree boa was wrapped menacingly in some bare branches nearby, and the hundreds of parrots were simply too intimidated by this lone predator to descend. Still, we managed good looks at the Yellow-Crowned and Blue-Headed Parrots, Mealy Amazon, and Dusky-Headed Parakeet before we ditched the restless crowd.

Traveling back upriver in the motorized canoe to the parakeet lick, we slowly patrolled the riparian woodland and forest, spotting a large group of parrots at an improvised clay lick. With eye-level looks at the same species, we felt much better about missing the spectacle at the official parrot lick and happy to have this one to ourselves. Further along at a river island we were shocked to see the Ladder-Tailed Nightjar perched so conspicuously out in the open, its sleepy eyes and disheveled plumage contributing to its general air of insouciance. Before we moved on, we enjoyed a group of Oriole Blackbirds and Giant Cowbirds moving noisily in the tall Gynerium cane.

As it was still early for the parakeet clay lick to be active, Oscar took us to another stakeout nearby, not far from the bodega for the Napo Wildlife Center, another high-end jungle lodge on the lower Napo River. Here, in another varzeá woodland stand, we were treated to excellent views of the Chestnut-Headed Crake, provoked into action by Oscar's skilled use of playback and recording equipment. After a minute of watching this beautiful bird skulk back and forth in the marshy habitat, we were interrupted by the distinctive call of the Rufous-Headed Woodpecker, a rare and beautiful woodpecker, highly sought-after by birders in the Oriente. After an excited scramble, we located a pair of these gorgeous birds probing about the dense trees lining the tributary. Eventually, they settled down and Ivan expertly lined up the male in the scope for prolonged views, allowing us to marvel at its unique combination of spotting and banding, as well as its bold red malar streak.

Elated, we moved on foot towards the trail to the parakeet lick, running into another small birding group on the way. Learning of our good fortune they dashed off in the direction we had come from, which was unfortunate as we soon ran into the same pair of woodpeckers again along the trail to the lick. The 800 meter trail to the lick took us well over an hour to travel as we tracked down a variety of excellent birds along the way: Thrush-Like Antpitta, Southern-Nightingale Wren, Sooty Antbird, Scale-Backed Antbird, Sapphire Quail-Dove, Great-Billed Hermit, and a pair of roosting Crested Owls. Meanwhile tourists from other lodges passed by, unaware of the understory birds moving cautiously about them. The parakeet lick was quiet for whatever reason, although we did pause there long enough to line up the Scarlet-Shouldered Parrotlet in the scope.

Instead of waiting at the blind for the parakeets to descend to a small recess at the bottom of a cliff for clay and water, we walked a trail leading behind the lick and up over the cliff into terra firme forest. We worked a difficult mixed flock for some time at the start of the trail, failing to see the Red-Billed Scythebill that was well-hidden in the canopy, but getting great looks at the Fulvous Shrike-Tanager, Chestnut Woodpecker, Eastern Woodhaunter, Rufous-Rumped Foliage-Gleaner, Gray Antwren, and Dusky-Throated Antshrike. Ascending the ridge we stopped to tape in the Yellow-Billed Jacamar and Yellow-Browed Antbird in their respective territories, both birds remaining sedentary long enough for outstanding views in the scope. Although the various manakin leks along the trail were quiet, we managed to find the Golden-Headed and Blue-Crowned Manakins as well as a solitary White-Eyed Tody-Tyrant foraging just above us. Even though the bird activity wasn't shockingly high, we knew that we were truly exploring pristine terra firme forest after startling both a White-Lipped Peccary and a group of Marbled Wood-Quail on the trail, both of which would be severely hunted in unprotected habitat.

Stopping for Gray Antbird, Mouse-Colored Antshrike, and Crimson-Crested Woodpecker on the way back, we took a late lunch at the now deserted lick, it being mid afternoon at this point. Activity was very low on the return trip to Sacha, but it was nice to have some time to process all the great birds we had already seen that day. I broke out of my reflection once though to admire the Snowy Egret taking wing over the Napo as our motorized canoe passed by. Walking through El Anden yet again, I was reminded that before dawn this morning we had encountered both the Undulated Tinamous and a nice mixed flock including the Black-Banded Woodcreeper.

Thinking we were going to return to the lodge for a restful afternoon, I was pleased when Oscar directed us down Anaconda Creek instead for some more varzeá birding. Although a storm was thundering in the distance, we paddling slowly along the creek noting the Cinnamon-Rumped Foliage-Gleaner, Masked Crimson Tanager, and Cinnamon Attila. Suddenly, I spotted a subtle movement nearby, and Ivan carefully stopped the canoe as I struggled to remember the name of the stunning bird perched in front of me, the Chestnut-Capped Puffbird. Unperturbed by our presence, this strikingly-colored bird remain perched on a liana, slowly moving its head to scan for prey, as we marveled at it from close range. For me, this incident encapsulated the varzeá experience, an unsettling habitat that is visually complex but physically still. Paralyzed myself by the sight of the puffbird, I could barely look overhead as we passed under a calling Rufous-Tailed Flatbill on our way back to Pilchicocha, where we would just beat the evening rainstorm back to the lodge.

Notable birds seen: Undulated Tinamous, Anhinga, Black-Crowned Night-Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Osprey, Bat Falcon, Marbled Wood-Quail, Chestnut-Headed Crake, Pied Plover, Collared Plover, Spotted Sandpiper, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Sapphire Quail-Dove, Chestnut-Fronted Macaw, Dusky-Headed Parakeet, Scarlet-Shouldered Parrotlet, Yellow-Crowned Amazon, Orange-Winged Amazon, Mealy Amazon, Crested Owl, Pauraque, Ladder-Tailed Nightjar, Rufous-Breasted Hermit, Great-Billed Hermit, Fork-Tailed Woodnymph, Yellow-Billed Jacamar, Chestnut-Capped Puffbird, Ivory-Billed Aracari, Chestnut Woodpecker, Rufous-Headed Woodpecker, Black-Banded Woodcreeper, Eastern Woodhaunter, Cinnamon-Rumped Foliage Gleaner, Rufous-Rumped Foliage-Gleaner, Mouse-Colored Antshrike, Gray Antwren, Gray Antbird, Yellow-Browed Antbird, Silvered Antbird, Sooty Antbird, Scale-Backed Antbird, Thrush-Like Antpitta, Golden-Headed Manakin, Blue-Crowned Manakin, Spangled Cotinga, Amazonian Umbrellabird, White-Eyed Tody-Tyrant, Rufous-Tailed Flatbill, Drab Water-Tyrant, Cinnamon Attila, Southern Nightingale Wren, Masked Crimson Tanager, Fulvous Shrike-Tanager, Oriole Blackbird.

1 comment:

HotKarl(NOR) said...

looks like a great trip! lots of diversity.

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