Saturday, 5 September 2015

Ecuador part 2 - Sacha Lodge and the Amazon

We spent three nights at Sacha Lodge in the Amazon. It took us two attempts tow get there though, as the first flight we took had to turn back to Quito due to torrential rain at Coca airport. Guess it's not called the rainforest for nothing! Anyway, the way it works is this - you fly to Coca, get picked up and then taken a couple of hours on a motorised boat down the Rio Napo where eventually you reach Sacha Lodge (and other popular lodges). Complete with nice rooms, good food and importantly dry boxes for all your electrical equipment it's a place that caters for tourists wanting their 'rainforest experience'. Piranha fishing, canopy walkways and night walks spotting tarantulas and tree frogs plus toucans, parrots, caiman and monkeys... that's what the punters pay for. And so it started, as on arrival by the lake was a nice showy Hoatzin, a prehistoric looking species I'd always wanted to see since I was a kid: -
Hoatzin at Sacha Lodge
Due to the flight being late in, we were a bit limited daylight wise on the first afternoon, but White-winged Swallows were nice, as were smaller numbers of White-banded Swallows, along with Speckled Chachalaca and Spix's Guan amongst others. A night walk did indeed produce the expected tarantula as well as a few tree frogs.
Tree Frog sp. at Sacha Lodge
The next morning was time for a canopy walk, and we spent a few hours above the trees. In fairness, it was relatively quiet, but I still enjoyed a good number of new birds. Nice to get back into Neotropic birding after a dozen years away, with a Rusty-belted Tapaculo being one of the first birds seen as we headed up towards the canopy walk! White-throated Toucans, Russet-backed Oropendulas, Black-tailed Tityras, White-browed Purpletufts and lots of Cobalt-winged Parakeets were joined by some pretty impressive Red-bellied, Blue-and-yellow and Chestnut-fronted Macaws. Pied Puffbirds seemed pretty confiding, while a handful of tanagers included stunning looking Green-and-golds and Paradise.
Paradise Tanager at Sacha Lodge
Pied Puffbird at Sacha Lodge
On the way back down to the lodge, a couple of Crested Owls were located in their usual roost site and a male Wire-tailed Manakin blinded us briefly with a bit of colour!
Crested Owl at Sacha Lodge
The afternoon was spent in the wet forest and on its waterways. It was significantly quieter than the morning, but that was to be expected, but the target Agami Heron did put in a brief appearance - very satisfying!
Agami Heron at Sacha Lodge
Black-mantled Tamarin at Sacha Lodge
The next day, after a night of rain, dawned predictably gloomy and it wasn't a surprise that the parrot lick (an area of clay bank where parrots come down to take minerals to help their digestion) was pretty disappointing. Just a few Dusky-headed Parakeets. However, the Rio Napo did provide a load of other species such as Large-billed Tern, Oriole Blackbird, Black-fronted Nunbird, Violaceous Jay and Ringed Kingfisher.
Plumbeous Kite at Yasuni NP
We headed into Yasuni NP, where heading up a tower to view the canopy proved really fruitful with loads of species - including some showy Plumbeous Kites for starters, Channel-billed Toucan and Ivory-billed Aracaris, Yellow-tufted and Cream-coloured Woodpeckers, Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak, Purplish Jacamar, Plum-throated Cotinga, several species of tanager and woodcreeper as well as some really nice flyby views of Blue-and-yellow Macaws.

It was up the Kapok Tower back at Sacha Lodge in the afternoon, but not before the boat journey there disturbed a Sungrebe. Birds were a lot closer here than in the morning at Yasuni, and though with not as much about, some nice Gilded Barbets and flocks of tanagers and euphonias entertained until the sun started to go down. That evening, we had a cruise around the lake after dinner and saw a couple of Black Caiman staring back at us.
Gilded Barbet at Sacha Lodge
So that was that, because the next morning we had to start our journey back to Coca for our flight back to Quito. The heavens opened, and the walk (run) back to the boat was pretty grim. But, at the end of the day, without the rain there wouldn't be all the biodiversity we'd experienced. A pleasant trip to the Amazon, though on reflection I think the birding was tougher than I expected and without hummingbird feeders, photography was a bit of a struggle at times.

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