A birdwatching trip to Ecuador in October 2001 - Andes to Amazon! The humming bird here is the Andean Emerald. On the left is a view of  Volcanes Illiniza (5,266m) and on the right is Gorzacocha, an oxbow lake off the Rio Napo, in the Amazon basin. All photos (C) Ruth Traynor.

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Home -> Diary -> Amazon basin -> The Canopy Tower (La Selva)

La Selva Canopy Tower. Photo: Ruth TraynorAmazon Basin Diary
13 - 16 October 2001
7. The Canopy Tower at La Selva

We only paid one visit to this famed location - wish it had been more. We arrived at the top of the tower at 7.15 am, when the tree tops still held mist. It looked magic!

Don't worry about the climb - Ruth was a little apprehensive before we did the climb, but it is - and feels - perfectly safe. Although it is 135 feet high, it is built around a massive kapok tree, and ascends in right-angles of around 8 - 9 steps per flight. It feels - and is (at the time of writing!) - perfectly safe. The platform at the top is well-guarded and, because it is so high in the tree tops, you get no feeling of vertigo unless you work hard to see the ground so far below!

This is THE place to see the canopy-loving species, where you don't have to shift your neck through 180 degrees to see little birds flitting behind leaves far above you - the normal ground-level view of so many forest birds. In the two hours that we were up there, we saw more than 30 species, many of them excellent views.

Double-toothed Hawk. Photo: Ruth TraynorResident in the kapok tree itself appeared to be a family of Double-toothed Hawks - two adults and a juvenile, who gave excellent and confiding views. Other visitors to 'our' tree (theirs, really!) included Scaly-breasted Woodcreeper, Bare-necked Fruitcrow (excellent views) and Chestnut Woodcreeper. We had a more distant view of a Purple-throated Fruitcrow, but clear enough to see the purple on its throat.

A raptor flew over, low down and circling, with broad wings, pale brown underparts. In the days that we were with him, this was the only bird that José was uncertain about - gave us confidence in the guy! He thought it was possibly a Black-faced Hawk. So that was good enough for us!

Looking out from out from our great kapok tree, there were some fine bird perches, some close, some distant. One of the first birds we saw was a magnificent Spangled Cotinga, perched on the dead top of a tree a few hundred metres from us, with good scoped views. I had noted at Pasachoa earlier in the trip that a Red-crested Cotinga seemed to favour the top of a dead tree. Later, from the tower, and a bit more distant, we saw a Plum-throated Cotinga in a similar habitat. Nice to make connections!

After a while, closer to our tree than the Cotingas, José spotted a sleeping Great Potoo. He failed to get my scope (when he found that I was taking mine, he left his back at the Lodge - not stupid, José!) onto it - very difficult with a camouflaged bird like this, but when I managed it, we all had fantastic views of this bird; its plumage so closely matched the bark of the tree on which it was perched.

Tanagers were, of course, one of the families that we really wanted to make contact with from this elevated viewpoint. We were not disappointed! Here's what we saw of this family:

  • Fulvous-crested Tanager (didn't make a great impression on me; must have been a 'tick' bird).
  • Black-faced Dacnis - we've seen the Blue Dacnis in Trinidad & Tobago. This was a good bird for us.
  • Green Honeycreeper - I ID'd this one (seen in T & T). No problems here. Distant, but good views of a cracking little brilliant bird.
  • Turquoise Tanager - yes, looked in the field guide, know I saw it; but can't remember it. That's Amazon birding - being honest now!
  • Paradise Tanager - no problems with this beauty! You really can't mistake it, even though it may be hard to see. We saw it perched, and saw the red rump when it flew. The green head, blue chest and underparts and black back are very distinctive when perched. You can see the red rump, but it is much more visible when the bird flies.
  • Opal-crowned Tanager - another which we saw clearly, but the memory of it is not strong! (see Turquoise and Fulvous-crested Tanagers above). Sometimes, the birds come so fast and furious that you just 'tick' them and move on to the next delight!
  • Rufous-bellied Euphonia - good views of this bird. We learnt that the key to identifying this blue-and-orange family is to look at their head markings.

Another group of canopy-loving birds which we saw well from the tower were the Aracaris and Toucans. We had good (sometimes distant) views of:

  • Lettered Aracari - Ruth saw and remembered this well; I didn't. The 'lettering' is a series of marks on the upper beak ('maxilla'). Very fanciful!
  • Ivory-billed Aracari - like all Aracaris, a striking multi-coloured bird.
  • Many-banded Aracari - well two or three bands, depending on whether you count the black bands, or the yellow between the black!
  • Golden-collared Toucanet - a pair. Their low 'yaw yaw' call is very distinctive.
  • White-throated Toucan - formerly the Amazon birds were considered to be a separate species, Cuvier's Toucan, but have now been 'lumped'. We had good views from the tower, and seem to be fairly common in the area. We made contact with this species every day in the area.

The Canopy Tower is also a good place for parrot watching. Most of the birds we saw were fly-overs or birds only heard, such as Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet (heard only), Mealy Parrot (red in wing seen well in flight), Orange-winged Parrot and Blue-and-yellow Macaw (we were pleased to see this species, even if the only view was a pair in flight).

We did see some flycatchers from the tower. One bird which gave us some trouble was Dusky-capped Flycatcher. We heard its plaintive, long whistle frequently (the field guide describes it as 'wheeuw' or 'fueeerrr') but it took us a long time to get a fleeting glimpse of the bird, a long way below us. Piratic Flycatcher was a bird that we ticked, but made no impression on me at all!

There was one time on the tower when we could imagine that we were back in England, listening to the beautiful song of the Song Thrush. It was, in fact, Lawrence's Thrush. We only heard its song from the tower, but, the previous day, on the South bank, we heard its call - a high rattle, reminiscent of the alarm call of a Mistle Thrush (apologies to non-English birders for these UK analogies!). It was quite evocative, hearing this variable song in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest.

If you ever go to La Selva, try to visit the Canopy Tower more than once! And get there as early in the morning as you can. It's a fantastic experience.

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