Monday 30th Nov. A short flight east from Quito to Coca, transfer to a motor canoe for a three hours fast drive down the Napo River, mostly in the rain. A ten minute walk through the forest to another canoe to be hand paddled to Sani Eco-Lodge.
Sani Lodge is delightfully located on a backwater in Amazonia. All wood and thatch, comfortable, relaxing and surrounded by wildlife. I liked it right away.
Just walking around in the grouds revealed a pair of Tropical Screech Owls roosting in a dark nook under the palms.
A Sungrebe swam across the lake close to the Lodge.
Yellow Rumped Caciques flew back and forth to their nests swinging from the trees outside my cabin.
and a Russet Backed Oropendola shared the tree with the Caciques.
and a totally tame Grey Winged Trumpeter wandered around with the guests like a pet, weird! the fieldguide describes this as shy and easily frightened off, well not this baby, you could tickle its chin.
After a late lunch my bird Guide Domingo suggested a paddle around the lake and up the creeks to see what we could find. I was all for it. First up was a nice White Winged Swallow perched conveniently on a dead branch protruding from the water as we paddled by.
It was still raining and the light was poor, but I had my poncho and as usual this weather seemed to bring the birds out so there were a good many in plain view, such as this stunning Masked Crimson Tanager, perhaps the largest Tanager I had seen so far. and what a colour.
These two White Eared Jacamars were definitely enjoying a shower as the rain came down, no seeking shelter for them.
A Striated Heron crept along the bank looking for food in the mud...
...and I caught sight of one of the most interesting Herons I have ever seen, a Boat Billed Heron, standing on a branch under the forest canopy in one of the small creeks. I was lucky to get this shot as I never had another sighting.
Back out in the open there was just enough light to snap these two delightful Crested Guans perched on a bare branch enjoying a shower in the rain.
Last shot of the day in rapidly diminishing light was this Ruddy Pigeon perched on another open branch. It seemed to have a warm rosy glow which made a nice image.
After a superb dinner I retired to my cabin for an early night as Domingo wanted to get going before first light. Good, I awaited the morning with great anticipation, what sights and birds awaited me tomorrow.
Tuesday 1st December. Before first light we paddled across the lake and up a dark creek. I used a little fill-in flash to capture this young Cayman as we slid quietly past.
After a few minutes of paddling I stepped off the canoe and we walked a short trail to the Canopy Tower.
As we scanned the forest around us the next living creature we picked out was not a bird but a Three Toed Sloth asleep in a tall tree below our platform. I hoped it too might move so we could see its face, but no, it stayed fast asleep and rock still the whole time we were up there, the lazy toe-rag.
Various Parrots and Yellow & Blue Macaws were flying to-and-fro in the forest beneath and around us. In the trees we started to pick out a variety of exotic rain forest birds. Because of the distance it was not ideal for photography, plus it was raining off and on again, but I post a few examples here for the record. Right away I could see this Crested Oropendola, and a little further away a superb Blue Throated Piping Guan. These were birds up on the tree-tops enjoying the rain.
The Plum Throated Cotinga almost shone in the murky light, pity it wasn't as close as the White Tailed Trogon who turned her big blue eyes up towards us.
Even further away in the distance another Cotinga, this time a Purple Throated Cotinga, a good bird, another lifer and a real find. It was more than a year later that I finally identified this bird with help from a Facebook birder called Mike Boatwright.
The Purple Honeycreeper below was perhaps the most stunning bird I saw in a place where stunning birds were common. The way the colours purple, black and yellow stood out from the forest green and brown was quite startling. This was a brief view of what is apparently not an uncommon forest bird , I wish we had seen more.
This Lettered Aracari looked quite comical from above, like a circus clown or comic strip character. It was not at all concerned about the steady rain coming down, in fact it may be why it was out in the open, taking a shower.
It could have been the Crane Hawk's bright red eye that attracted our attention, a fine looking bird and another who was up enjoying the rain.
This sparkling Pied Puffbird came and sat in the branches of the Kapok Tree and gave us perfect close up views for ten minutes or so....
.....and a nice Yellow Tufted Woodpecker came into the tree too, what a beauty.
.....and then a stunning Gilded Barbet came to join in the show, all very close and very colourful.
The little Blackpoll Warbler was positively bland in comparison, but every bird is equal when it is a new species for ones life list, they all count the same.
After ten o'clock the bird activity had dwindled, so we climbed down from the tower and spent an hour or two on the forest trail looking for Manakins, very hard to see but definitely attractive little birds that live in the deep forest.
Manakins are small, usually colourful forest birds that are sought after by birders, for one reason they are quite hard to find, and for another they are well known for the pre-nuptial displays that the males perform, see the moonwalk for example here,
The modus operandi is quite simple, walk the dark forest trails until you hear a manakin call, then use playback (recorded birdcalls) to try to entice one into view. We were successful twice this morning and I managed to get poor but recognizable shots of each in the dark undergrowth. The Striped Manakin below is quite a beauty but unfortunately the only shot I managed has a branch obscuring most of the red and white stripes.
This male Golden Headed Manakin gave us very good views, this though was the best shot I could manage in very dark conditions.
By now it was time to head back to the Lodge for lunch, and for the rest of the day we birded from the canoe, here are some of the birds we saw.
This juvenile Rufescent Tiger Heron clearly shows where the name comes from. However the adults lose all those spots and stripes and they look quite different.
The Black Capped Donacobius is quite a striking looking bird. They were quite common around these backwaters.
Kiskadees were also common, both Greater and Lesser. The one in this shot is I think a Lesser Kiskadee although it's not easy to distinguish without a size reference.
This little Grey Breasted Martin cuts a fine figure on a stake in the pond, enjoying the rainfall.
A good looking Ringed Kingfisher watches from an overhanging branch....
...and this Capped Heron cuts a fine figure in the creek. I wish I had managed a completely clear shot of this great looking bird, but this was the best I could do.
Perched on another stake in the pond, a nice Yellow Billed Tern.
And last but not least today, one of the Hoatzins that frequent these backwaters. They were quite numerous around here.
Wednesday 2nd December. Today should have included visiting the Clay licks to see Parrots and Macaws licking the clay to aid their digestion. However there had been so much rain recently that there was little or no activity at the licks, so we explored the Napo River by motorboat, making stops and walking trails along the riverbanks. Many photographs today are purely record shots.
First bird of the day was a Ladder Tailed Nightjar sleeping in a branch near the boat dock. later we were to find a nest site for this species which was simply two chicks lying on a soft patch of sandy ground. The parent bird was close by watching her young so we stayed away to cause minimum disturbance.
Here are four record shots of birds photographed on a small river island. Nothing exciting but worth recording.
I do like the next shot though of a Spotted Tody Flycatcher. It was another of those birds that seemed to glow in the dark. It was in a very dark section of forest but I was very pleased with this shot, much better than expected of a very nice little bird.
As we drove down the river there were birds to see in the trees along the banks. This Pergrine Falcon is one of the few familiar birds I saw on this trip.
Striated Herons were fairly numerous....
and here are a few more species just for the record. The Brown Jacamar was nice as it is quite rare, the ID is not 100% certain, it could possibly be a White Chinned Jacamar which is equally uncommon.
There is more than just birds to be seen when walking in the forests. Woolly Monkey, Squirrel Monkey, Agouti, Long Nosed Bat, Great Otter, Black Mantled Tamarin Monkeys and Poison Dart Frog are just a few of the other species I can recall.
Can you see the Poison Dart Frog on the leaf litter below. The forest floor holds tiny frogs almost everywhere in these moist conditions. Some have very exotic shapes and colours. I only carry a birding lens in the forest but thought it worth trying a shot of this little chap as it appeared to glitter in the sunlight. These frogs acquire their toxicity from eating ants and other toxic insects. Only a few species are actually used to coat the native hunters dart tips.
My main interest is avian though so I am always pleased to find exceptional species like the Black Throated Trogon above, and the Crested Owl below. The Owl was one of a pair roosting together, a very handsome couple.
The Great Jacamar was on one of the forest trails, a great bird which was difficult to photograph as the only clear view I could get was from directly beneath it. Still these shots are better than nothing of such a fine looking bird.
A Black Capped Donacobius made a nice image on a sapling with fresh green leaves. Quite a common bird but I include it as it's a nice image.
These White Banded Swallows were perched nicely on the riverbank as we slid past. I did not see many of these so was pleased to get a good photo.
Two hard to find birds above, the Barred Antshrike is not uncommon but is very hard to see, it spends it's time skulking in low, dense undergrowth so it is necessary to call it out using playback, which was the case here. This inquisitive male was responding to a recording but he never left his deep cover and the darkness made photography difficult. The Blue Crowned Manakin is similar in that it is quite numerous and widespread but is not seen easily. The Sulphury Flycatcher below is similar to the Tropical Kingbird but I'm pretty sure this is the flycatcher. We saw TKB's everywhere but this bird had a shorter bill and was somewhat stockier.
The Brown Nunlet is an uncommon and hard to find bird so I was pleased to get a half decent shot in some dense forest near the river. It is a species of Puffbird found in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru in a contiguous range on the eastern slopes of the Andes and the headwaters of the Amazon Basin, but nowhere numerous. This is the kind of photography I enjoy, hunting for rare and/or elusive birds in their natural habitat. More fun than taking pictures of hummingbirds and brightly coloured Tanagers at feeders.
That is why I post images that are often poor or unremarkable, like this Short Crested Flycatcher. It has significance to me. It's not a rare or interesting bird, but I got it.
These two aquatic birds I have seen many times before, the Neotropic Cormorant and the Anhinga are quite common near any sizable stretch of water in the tropics. Being quite large and conspicuous they are of less interest to me than the little brown flycatcher. They are too easy.
Thursday 3rd December. My last day at Sani Lodge saw a dramatic change in the weather, clear skies and bright sunshine. I only had the morning to spend birding as after an early lunch I would head back to Coca and the return flight to Quito. Because of this we stayed local and birded from the canopy Tower, but this was a dead loss, the hot sun had driven all the birds down below the forest canopy and there was virtually nothing to see from up here, so we decided to bird the creeks and ponds from the canoe instead.
Better light gives better images. These two Kingfisher shots are more vibrant and detailed than my previous efforts. The Green Kingfisher is nice and sharp, but In fact the Pygmy Kingfisher shot is my personal favourite from Ecuador. The colours blend nicely and complement each other, the picture really works and is the most aesthetically pleasing.
Ospreys are quite common here and we had a couple scouting around the backwaters of the Lodge today.
Orange Winged Parrots were flying around and I caught a couple of nice shots, one perched but the other flight shot just coincidentally caught a Fork-tailed Palm Swift in the frame. Two for the price of one.
Two Lesser Kiskadees looked good in the sunshine....
...and the clear skies meant we could see the raptors overhead for a change. I captured a King Vulture, Slender Billed Kite and a Gray Headed Kite amongst others.
A pair of Rufescent Tiger Herons showed well near the Lodge..
....but the Least Bitterns were harder to find. Playback eventually coaxed one into a visible spot although still partially obscured. Then I spotted a nice Yellow Bellied Dacnis on an overhanging branch.
A very good sighting across the lake was this Black-Fronted Nunbird perched on an old tree stump, the first and only one I saw in Ecuador.
The best birds however we saved until the last. In a narrow creek we called out a lovely Dot Backed Antbird, one of those small, hard to see forest dwellers. Superb.
But while Domingo was trying to coax out the Antbird I spotted another LBJ (Little Brown Job). I wasn't going to mention it while he concentrated on the Antbird but I took a photo. When he saw the shot he became unusually animated. This was a Cocha Antshrike, a very rare bird endemic not only to Ecuador but only ever really seen right here, and then rarely. Domingo told me that none of the other Lodges in the area ever recorded it. I found out that it was once only known from an old collected specimen until its re-discovery in 1991.
The Cocha Antshrike is a very intriguing species in the genus Thamnophilus that, until relatively recently was only known from a single female specimen from northeastern Ecuador. Then the species was “re-discovered” and the male, which had been un-described to science, was found for the first time. It is now considered uncommon and very local along slow-moving streams and flooded forest in extreme northeastern Ecuador. Males are entirely black, females are entirely chestnut brown, with a black hood and breast.
After my first sighting we called the bird out and had even better views. This is a female, we did not see, or at least did not notice a male which is perhaps less conspicuous being all black. I was very pleased with this sighting, just about my last, and the best bird of my Ecuador trip. A good way to finish. The Cocha Antshrike.
Retired seafarer living in Frigiliana, a white village in Malaga Province in southern Spain. Married to Elena. Keen bird and wildlife watchers.
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