Sani Lodge, Day 1: August 10, 2009

Even after taking the short flight from Quito to Coca, travel to the lower Napo River is never quick and easy. The river itself is a winding, treacherous affair, and boat drivers must dodge sandbars and trees lying just under the surface in the constantly changing conditions. Fortunately, the birding is generally decent from the boat, as there are many opportunities to scan river islands for shorebirds, swallows, and raptors, among others. After passing the docking compounds for Sacha and La Selva Lodges, we spotted a number of fine birds on several different islands, including the Roseate Spoonbill, Large-Billed Tern, and Black Skimmer. Passing from the Napo to the oxbow lake that Sani is situated on, we also came across several species of kingfisher; in fact, within the first few hours of my stay, I has seen all five species of kingfisher normally encountered in Ecuador: Ringed, Amazon, Green, Green-and-Rufous, and American Pygmy Kingfishers, the latter being the most difficult.

While the other guests were getting settled in their cabins, I was busy patrolling the grounds familiarizing myself with some of the more common birds. The Yellow-Crowned Tyrannulet was calling persistently in the mid-afternoon sun, and the Short-Crested Flycatcher, Silver-Beaked Tanager, and Great and Lesser Kiskadees were readily apparent. Most exciting though was a group of White-Eared Jacamars that noisily shifted position in tall trees surrounding the cleared grounds of the lodge. I followed them from perch to perch with my scope while my father marveled at their cool appearance and boisterous behavior. Shortly thereafter we would be appreciating another jacamar, the White-Chinned Jacamar, viciously snapping up insects from a perch over the water in the quebrada, or passage between the Napo and Challuacocha.

Birding from a dugout canoe is indeed one of the true pleasures in life, and my father warmed to it immediately that evening as we cruised the borders of the lake finding the Hoatzin, Common Potoo, and Black-Capped Donacobius, all of which we would see every day of our stay at Sani. Streams of parrots passed overhead as Domingo and I discussed the chances of seeing the Long-Billed Woodcreeper and Agami Heron, just a few of the varzea specialties I had yet to encounter in Ecuador. Feeling optimistic about the following three days, I didn't bother following up on several species of owls calling later that night, but I did hear what sounded like the Zigzag Heron barking gruffly before I fell asleep.

Notable birds seen: Roseate Spoonbill, Yellow-Headed Caracara, Large-Billed Tern, Black Skimmer, Black-Headed Parrot, Hoatzin, Common Potoo, Green-and-Rufous Kingfisher, American Pygmy Kingfisher, White-Eared Jacamar, White-Chinned Jacamar, Many-Banded Aracari, Channel-Billed Toucan, Yellow-Crowned Tyrannulet, Ochre-Bellied Flycatcher, Gray-Capped Flycatcher, Black-Capped Donacobius.

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