Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Ecuador January 1, 2010

January 1, 2010
Sani Lodge - Canopy Tower

Breakfast at 05:30h featured essentially the same buffet as on previous mornings with enough selection for everyone to find something to enjoy.
Neither Olger nor Juan put in an appearance and didn’t meet us at 06:00h on the dock as planned. Olger showed up at 06:30h claiming that he had mislaid his binoculars and couldn’t find them, nor could he find a paddle for the canoe. Juan never did make it down to the water.
Since there was a copious quantity of cane alcohol left the previous evening we suspected that some serious partying may have gone on. Olger looked a little rough and I don’t think he relished having to paddle in the absence of Juan.
We left shortly after 06:30h to journey out to the canopy tower. It was absolutely serene moving slowly down the still river in the early morning with warm sunshine and a cooling breeze. Fish were jumping out of the water to snag passing insects. Now if only we could do something about those uncomfortable seats!
Birding on the river was delightful as always, the highlights being five Capped Herons and two Cocoi Herons. A couple of Limpkins were the first we had seen in Ecuador.
We arrived at the dock near to the tower and walked a short distance inland. The tower is just six months old and was built entirely by hand since there is no access for heavy equipment. It’s a long climb up metal steps to a wooden platform built high up in the limbs of a two hundred year old kapok tree. The view was breathtaking. We had exactly the same perspective as a Harpy Eagle would have surveying its territory above the forest canopy. The branches were huge, many broad enough to walk on - not that any of us did, of course! It was amazing to be able to look down on Blue-and-Yellow Macaws flying by; such a different view from that normally to be had by craning one’s neck and staring upwards. It was an experience to be long-remembered simply to have that bird’s eye perspective. I was very happy that a trip to this tower had been included on our itinerary.
The bird life was interesting but not prolific, and we had distant views of Red Howler Monkeys resting in the treetops. Peter and Cindy were already on the tower when we arrived with their guide, Sebastian, a very pleasant young fellow. Sebastian got a bird in the scope and proclaimed it a Spangled Cotinga, which is certainly what it looked like to me. Olger, who seemed disengaged and a tad grumpy looked at the bird and dismissed it as a Masked Tanager, telling Sebastian so in a decidedly unpleasant, derogatory tone. Sebastian went through the field marks one by one with me and I am convinced the bird was, in fact, a Spangled Cotinga. Either species would have been a lifer so I could not be accused of having that fact influence my judgement.
Olger mentioned that as recently as thirty years ago there were no pharmacies anywhere near the community and all the medicines they needed were derived from the forest. The women especially were highly skilled in knowing the properties of various plants, which we seem quite willing to destroy.
We left the tower after a few hours and paddled at a leisurely pace back to the lodge, arriving there at 11:50h. Miriam took a quick cold shower and we relaxed on our porch until lunch time, shaded by a tree with a light breeze wafting over us.
The only downside was that our porch faced directly on to the back door of the kitchen with its collection of garbage cans brimming with trash, propane tanks and empty totes piled high. If only the cabin had been rotated 45 degrees we would have been looking out on trees with the lagoon beyond, albeit with a satellite dish somewhat impairing the view. The Red-capped Cardinal in the tree immediately behind it was more than adequate compensation, however.
Lunch was at 13:00h for a very small group of us. Many people had left that morning and Lelis and his group of five had left for a full day’s birding. Only two tables were set up and instead of the usual buffet we were served at the table. As always a delicious bowl of soup began the meal, followed by a plate with lentils, tomato, avocado, fried plantain and carrots. Dessert was cold jello. There was lots of a delicious fruit juice and Miriam had a cup of anise tea.
Again neither Olger nor Juan were anywhere to be seen.
We returned to our porch and I even had a brief nap.
At 16:00h we headed out by motor boat, this time with Juan as motorman to a distant river island. It was a slow ride through low water and creeks and channels clogged with fallen logs. Finally we made the broad expanse of the Napo River and picked up speed as we headed toward our destination. As always, Jason and Lindsay were our constant companions on these jaunts and it was always a pleasure to be with them.
The birding going out to the island and on the island itself was very rewarding, the highlights being a White-eared Jacamar, at least three Ladder-tailed Nightjars roosting on the sand, a Lesser Hornero and an Oriole Blackbird.
We left the island just as the sun was setting and Miriam captured some beautiful images. Darkness comes quickly, however, and before long we were back in the creeks and channels navigating the hazards in almost total darkness without any running lights, or even a flashlight. I don’t think it was a white knuckle journey but there were moments of minor tension.
Juan and Olger seemed to handle it with total aplomb, however, and we were delivered safely back to the lodge just in time for dinner.
Delicious as always, dinner consisted of a buffet of fish, beef, cauliflower, potatoes, radish salad, beet salad and palmito salad. Dessert was banana cake and an orange mousse.
There were many new arrivals so the dining room was filled to capacity.
Right after dinner, at 20:00h we returned to the boat for a night cruise around the lagoon. We got up close to a large caiman in the same area where people had been swimming earlier in the day! I have had good views of Pauraque before, but often they have been glimpses of red eyes shining out of the darkness. On this occasion we were able to see Pauraques perched on the cross members of the dock. We also saw Common Potoo and some fruit-eating bats.
We were back at the dock by 20:30h and returned to our cabin to prepare to leave the next morning.

All species January 1 - Rufescent Tiger Heron, Least Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Striated Heron, Cocoi Heron, Western Great Egret, Capped Heron, Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Black Vulture, Western Osprey, Slender-billed Kite (heard), Grey-necked Wood Rail, Azure Gallinule, Limpkin, Great Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Yellow-billed Tern, Large-billed Tern, Pale-vented Pigeon, Blue-and-Yellow Macaw, Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Orange-winged Amazon, Mealy Amazon, Hoatzin, Great Ani, Smooth-billed Ani, Common Potoo, Pauraque, Ladder-tailed Nightjar, Neotropical Palm Swift, Amazonian White-tailed Trogon, Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, Amazon Kingfisher, Ringed Kingfisher, Lettered Aracari, Many-banded Aracari, Channel-billed Toucan, Gilded Barbet, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Little Woodpecker, Scaly-breasted Woodpecker, Cream-coloured Woodpecker, White-eared Jacamar, Spangled Cotinga, Mottle-backed Elaenia, Drab Water Tyrant, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Lesser Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Lesser Hornero, White-winged Swallow, Black-capped Donacobius, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Russet-backed Oropendola, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Oriole Blackbird, Yellow-browed Sparrow, Red-capped cardinal, Silver-beaked Tanager, Blue-grey Tanager, Opal-rumped Tanager, Opal-crowned Tanager, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Greyish Saltator.

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