Skip to navigation, or go to main content.

WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Ecuador: The Amazon Lowlands 2

A Week at Sani Lodge / August

2017 Narrative

In Brief: There may not be any pronounced dry season on the Equator in the Amazon Basin, but if there was one week-long dry spell this year, we found it. It was only as hot as is typical in the tropics, but that was an even tradeoff for getting to bird every day. It was a wonderful week that passed by all too quickly, filled with great birds and some incredible tropical diversity in the way of lizards fighting on trees, killer mushrooms invading insect brains, and a very friendly and almost even loving Amazon Tree Boa. We saw some marvelous birds at the canopy platform, such as a perched Orange-breasted Falcon and Yellow-billed Nunbirds, while along the various trails elusive species such as Collared Puffbird, Wire-tailed Manakin, and Black-faced Antbird performed well. Super delightful were the several boat rides on the lake (cocha) and stream (yacu), where rare kingfishers such as American Pygmy and Green-and-rufous were ridiculously abundant and easy to see. But we didn’t have to go far from our rooms (or the lodge’s bar) to enjoy some of the best birding in the area – Hoatzins drank water from next to the deck, while Scarlet-crowned Barbets, Masked Crimson Tanagers, and others fed from the Panama Hat Plant fruits the staff put out. A pair of Tropical Screech-Owls never left their perch or each other’s side the entire time, and charismatic White-cheeked Jacamars could always be seen from the comfort of the bar.

In Detail: We started the tour with a short flight and anticipation-filled boat ride down the Napo River, where we saw a few egrets and Southern Lapwings, and our boatmen made a short stop to show us a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth in a Cecropia tree. When we arrived at the lodge, we were almost in shock at the colors of Masked Crimson Tanager and Scarlet-crowned Barbets at feeders and in the afternoon enjoyed a boat ride to and from the canopy platform where American Pygmy-Kingfisher and Black-capped Donacobius were favorite sightings. At the canopy platform we had good fly-bys of marvelous Blue-and-yellow Macaws.

On our first full day at the lodge we were in no hurry to abandon the birdiness of the lodge clearing and feeders, and some of us still had to commit to memory complex bird names such as Masked Crimson Tanager, along with so many other species that visited the fruiting tree in front of the bar – an Orange-crested Manakin being one of the most surprising. Once it was light enough, we entered the dark forest trail system and spotted some great birds – Wire-tailed Manakin at an observation blind performed well, while the scarce and often very difficult canopy dwellers Great Jacamar and Golden-collared Toucanet managed to find perches where we could watch them through the scope. Our afternoon boat ride featured a close Green-and-rufous Kingfisher and a very confiding immature Agami Heron.

We had a second visit to the canopy platform for most of the morning where White-browed Purpletufts and Cinnamon Attila over our heads and perched Black-headed Parrots in a distant tree were favorite sightings, not to mention the ever-present Lawrence’s Thrush that serenaded us from our own tree. The short trail to and from the platform was also good, and here we saw our only Plain-throated Antwren of the tour, chipping away in the understory. The boat ride was also good, providing more kingfishers, this time a Ringed Kingfisher making it to the list of favorites. In the afternoon we birded a nearby trail where a Blue-crowned Manakin finally showed well for all, and as we re-entered the lodge clearing we found an Amazonian Scrub-Flycatcher pair building a nest. It’s not a super showy bird, but it’s hard to find and even harder to identify, and it was a lifer the very seasoned local guides.

On one day we took a longer trip away from the lodge to visit the habitats in the middle of and on the south side of the Napo River, starting with a sandy island where Oriole Blackbird and Gray-breasted Crake were the highlights. We saw good numbers of parrots on the clay lick before birding another trail where Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Great Jacamar, Orange-eyed Flycatcher, and Green-backed Trogon were fine sightings before we learned about the rearing of several kinds of butterflies for a tourism project. Back at the lodge the noisy Violaceous Jays finally appeared around our buildings, providing good views of this surprisingly beautiful corvid.

On another day we birded a more distant trail, first spying a Sungrebe on our boat ride to the trail head. Once there we had to work for our birds, eventually seeing Amazonian Trogon, Dusky-throated Antshrike, Spot-backed Antbird, Flame-crested Tanager, and Red-crowned Ant-Tanager among many others. A highlight was spotting a Purple-throated Fruitcrow at a nest on an exposed palm leaf. In the afternoon we had a great experience with a family of Coraya Wrens followed by a magnificent Chestnut Woodpecker.

On our next-to-last full day, we took a longer boat ride way up the Challuayacu, one of the most pleasant mornings of the tour. We started with some fine birding on the lake, with our only Spot-breasted Woodpecker of the tour perched on a lone cecropia tree. Capped Heron and a migratory Solitary Sandpiper were also here before we entered the stream, full of its usual kingfishers. A pair of locally rare Amazonian Streaked-Antwrens came in easily, while we had to work for a White-chinned Jacamar, our only one of the tour. A lone Wattled Jacana in the floating vegetation was also our only one, later in the morning reappearing at the cocha. We got to see a pair of Amazonian Motmots, Many-banded Aracaris, and a Black-banded Woodcreeper when we birded around the campground and down the trail before we had to get paddled back to the lodge for lunch. On the way back we had a wonderful show of swifts coming down to drink, including a larger, brown-rumped Chaetura which was determined to be Amazonian Swift. After dinner, our night walk down the trail was highlighted by an adorable White-bellied Mouse Opossum in a small palm next to the trail.

We spent one final morning on the canopy platform, followed by some birding down the trail nearby. A pair of Yellow-billed Nunbirds were nearly at arm’s length in our tree, while new for us was a Lemon-throated Barbet and a very close study of the difficult Gray Elaenia. A Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper also visited our tree, while scanning the more distant treetops revealed a handsome Slate-colored Hawk. The biggest prize was the Orange-breasted Falcon, which perched on the closest bare treetop where we got to watch it in the spotting scope at length. Fly-by Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlets and Maroon-tailed Parakeets were tantalizing, but we did at least get a glimpse and experience their distinctive vocalizations. On the trail we managed to get great views of a close Peruvian Warbling-Antbird before we paddled back to the lodge for lunch. In the afternoon we enjoyed yet another boat ride, full of Donacobiuses, Hoatzins, and kingfishers. We heard the Orange-eyed Flycatchers over the stream again but spent more time with a pair of Black-tailed Flycatchers building a nest right over the water.

One last morning allowed us to bird to the Mauritia flexuosa palm swamp where we at least heard the enigmatic Point-tailed Palmcreeper, while a mixed flock gave us good views of Cinereous Antshrike. One last bird on the way back was a most handsome Collared Puffbird that sat long enough for us to find a spot off the trail to scope it. We bid farewell to the Tropical Screech-Owl pair, enjoyed our final views of the astonishingly red Masked Crimson Tanagers, and tallied Southern Lapwings on the boat ride back to Coca before the flight back to Quito and then homeward.

Updated: n/a