A Squirrel Monkey greeted our group of five birders, our tour organizers Alicia and Dietre Kamm, and our Ecuadorian guide, Edwin, at the docks in Coca (Francisco de Orellana) while we were waiting to board the river boat for our 2 hour ride down 40 miles of the Rio Napo towards the Napo Wildlife Center.
Later, as we sped along the river in our motorized boat,
we passed barges transporting vehicles and machinery to the various oil refineries located along the river. The Community Guide, who accompanied our group and other visitors on our trip down the river, explained the mixed blessings of the oil resources – the improvement to the nation’s economy and standard of living, at the same time putting other natural resources and the rights of indigenous peoples at risk.
At the Napo Wildlife Center docks, we met Jorge who would be our group’s Community Guide during our stay, and transferred to a paddle canoe that would take us the remaining 4 miles along the Añangu Creek – a trip that would also take close to 2 hours.
Dense tropical plants crowded the banks along the creek and the air was hot and heavy. Screeches, gurgles and chortles from birds deep within the understory let us know we were now in the jungle. A Ringed Kingfisher perched on a limb overhanging the creek; and as we neared, he flew down, skimming the water ahead of us – as if he was leading the way. He was replaced by Amazon, Pygmy and Green and Rufous Kingfishers, as well as Sungrebes. Blue Morpho butterflies danced back and forth across the black water, resembling large iridescent blue fireflies.
A pair of Hoatzin’s (pronounced Watsons) huddled on a branch, and then gave an asthmatic gasp before they flew awkwardly to another limb. We encountered many others as the canoe plied its way along the creek.
As we neared the lake, the creek widened and supported numerous water plants and a variety of herons and egrets.
There was so much to see that it was hard to believe two hours had passed when we saw the thatched-roofed buildings of the Napo Wildlife Center, our home for the next 5 nights.
We set out the next morning in the canoe – all travel was by canoe – along Añangu Creek. After half an hour, Jorge steered us into a small side-creek and beached it at the start of the Tiputini Trail.
“We are going to talk along the trail for two miles or so and see what we can see,” Edwin told us. “Be careful along the first part of the trail as the logs and planks will be slippery from last night’s rain.” I could not have managed had it not been for the help of Ralph, one of the men in our group. Tropical plants crowded each side of the fairly narrow trail, making it difficult to see many of the birds we heard. We stopped to look at a large millipede.
Further along Edwin pointed out a Southern Traiandua (Anteater) sitting high in a tree. Alaska-sized mosquitos buzzed around us and I was glad I had little exposed skin. A variety of rufous-colored woodcreepers wound their way up and around tree trunks. An occasional brightly colored flower or interesting fungus dazzled us. Screaming Pihas (secretive, but vocal bird) provided a jungle ambiance.
The bright yellow body of an Amazonian Violaceous Trogan stood out amidst the green leaves and we spotted our first manakin of the trip – a White-capped Manakin.
At noon, we were surprised to see Henry, who had paddled in the rear of the canoe. After he helped us get safely along the first part of the trail, he had done some hand-rail repair, then returned to the lodge to retrieve our hot box lunch and carried it to us in the woods. Jorge spread ponchos across some wet, mossy logs to give us a place to sit.
The next day we visited the Parrot Licks, one just past the docks on the Rio Napo and the other at the end of an 800m meter trail in Yasuni National Park.
We sat in the canoe far enough away so as not to startle the parrots, yet giving us a good view through our bins. Dusky-headed Parrots began to convene in the bushes on either side of a small side clay lick, disappearing into the green leaves when they landed. When they all arrived, a few flew onto the lick in a surveillance mission, and then returned to the bush. A few more flew onto the lick and stayed,
Nearby a nocturnal Common Potoo looked like a bump on a branch as it snoozed.
The second clay lick gets active around 10:30. We timed our trek along their well-maintained trail to arrive on time. As we approached the viewing blind, we could hear several species of parrots, parakeets and macaws jostling and calling high in the trees above us, but couldn’t see them. After 1.5 hours, they still hadn’t started dropping down. Chris, walked back a ways on the trail to see if she could spot them. As she watched, we heard a unison roar as all of them rose up and took off. Chris had witnessed a raptor zip into the tree tops prompting their dispersal. They didn’t return, so we left.
The skies darkened as we headed back along Añangu Creek after lunch. At one point we encountered three different species of monkeys – Monk Saki, White-faced Capuchin and Common Squirrel Monkeys. “The capuchins and squirrel monkeys are dependent on each other,” Edwin explained – then added, “Be careful when you look up at them; sometimes they have urinated on the canoes.” Luckily they were preoccupied finding food before the impending storm, and we avoided their pranks.
There was a loud clap of thunder, and then it started to pour. We quickly passed back the ponchos and hovered under them, while Jorge, Henry and Edwin paddled quickly the rest of the way. Despite the rain, Marcello greeted us with a glass of fruit juice as he did each day on our return.
While we waited at the dock at 7:30 am on our third morning, we were kept hopping as bird-after-bird arrived at nearby trees, e.g. Chestnut-eared and Lettered Aracaris and Scarlet-crowned Barbet. Dieter spotted a Great Potoo and set up his scope so we could see it closely.
Jorge stopped at the Parrot Lick before taking us down river. Mealy Amazons, Blue-headed and Dusky-headed Parrots and a single Yellow-crowned Amazon were busy at the clay lick.
After speeding down the Rio Napo for about 20 minutes, we stopped and got out at one of the river islands. We trekked across the sand
until we reached the vegetation where our first bird was a Black and White Seedeater. A type of sand wasp buzzed low, making me tense. We left them behind when we started bush-whacking through shoulder-high canes until we reached a stand of trees, many with disguised thorns – plus birds that can only be found on river islands, e.g. Spotted Tody-Flycatcher and Pale-vented Pigeon.
A raptor circled in the distance, then flew closer giving us good locks at its under-wing pattern – “a Black and White hawk Eagle,” Edwin told us and showed us a picture in his field guide.
We made another pass at the second clay lick in the late morning where we lucked out. The Cobalt-winged Parakeets were the first to fly in, gathering on bushes growing on the cliff face on either side and above the lick area.
When they dropped down to the clay,
they were joined by Orange-cheeked Parrots and a Scarlet-shouldered Parrolet.
On our way back along Anangu Creek, we stopped to gaze at an Amazon Forest Dragon.
Edwin saved a visit to the canopy tower for our last morning at Napo Wildlife Center. “Jorge will knock on your door at 4:15. We will start across the lake at 5:15, so we can be at the tower at sunrise. It had rained during the early night and was still raining lightly as we walked along the trail to the tower after crossing the lake. A Crested Owl called nearby. As we were about to start our ascent up the 210 steps, it started to pour and we quickly dug out our ponchos and rain jackets. I had been worried about the climb;
however, it went surprisingly easy. The steps were spaced well – 7 steps, then a landing, 7 steps, and another landing – and before I knew it, I was on the viewing platform. The rain had slowed to a drizzle and a sliver of sun made its appearance before disappearing behind the clouds.
Before long the birds became active. Red-throated Caracaras called from the top of a bare snag. Eastern Sirystes bounced around in the branches above the platform. Blue and Yellow Macaws
replaced the Caracaras and Red-bellied Macaws flew over the canopy. A Spix’s Guan landed in the top of a tree.
We admired Opal-rumped Tanagers and turquoise-colored Plum-throated and Spangled Cotingas. Olive and Russet-backed Oropendulas hiccupped as they flew in and out of the canopy.
White-throated Toucans and an Ivory-billed Aracari gave us good looks, and a pair of Many-banded Aracaris popped up in the top of some trees and later in the morning, one landed nearby.
By time Henry returned with breakfast, it had stopped raining. We were dumbfounded when we saw him appear at the top of the stairs with a plastic tub on his shoulder and carrying a canister of coffee with his other hand.
By time we headed back across the lake, the sun was shining.
During the afternoon we had an opportunity to admire the birds around the lodge and cabins, e.g. Yellow rumped Caciques,
Oropendula and cacique nests,
– and to take a picture of the leaf-cutter ants that made a trail across the path from our cabin to the dining area.
The last morning I was finally able to get a picture of the hand-sized frog that had been lurking in the bathroom each morning before he scooted up the wall and out of sight.
We enjoyed a red-tinged sunrise as we made our way across the lake as we left Napo Wildlife Center to begin our journey to the cloud forest.
It had been a magical experience and we had received wonderful hospitality from the Kichwa community during our stay.