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-> Amazon basin -> Garzacocha
13 - 16 October
8. Garzacocha ('Heron Lake')
you stay at La Selva, you will have to cross Garzacocha at least
twice; once to get to the Lodge, and once to return to the Rio Napo.
But you will probably be on the lake many more times, and each time
is a new experience! To make the journey from the boardwalk landing
stage to the Lodge takes 15 - 20 minutes, depending on the vigour
of the canoe paddlers!
and whenever you go on Garzacocha, you will always see and hear
the bizarre Hoatzin - the Quichua name means "stinky
turkey". Because their flesh tastes so foul, they have no natural
predators, and as a consequence, they are very approachable, simply
looking around, looking dazed and confused. Their breathless 'heavy
breathing' call sounds like an obscene phone call (not that I've
ever heard one!), and we could even hear them from our cabana. I
tried to find out if anyone had done a count of the Garzacocha Hoatzin,
but I got no reliable information. I reckon there must be at least
50 birds around the lake. Mostly you see them perched in low branches
over the lakeside; occasionally we saw them on dead logs in the
lake. Their flight is short and clumsy, crashing into branches much
like the English Common Pheasant.
were a pair of resident Ospreys around the lake - breeding,
we were told - and we saw them frequently. Once we saw one carrying
a fish, torpedo-like, in its talons. But check carefully for perched
raptors, because some of them are Greater Yellow-headed Vultures,
American Black Vultures or Black or Red-throated Caracaras.
can be seen from the lake and we had excellent views of Sand-coloured
Nighthawks. José pointed out six of them on a nearby
branch. I was looking about 10 metres away on a dead branch; it
took me a while to see them on the correct branch just 2 metres
away! Then they flew, giving good views of their prominent white
wing bars. We saw them flying over the water on subsequent occasions,
sometimes as many as 20 in the air, showing a prominent white wing
bar. The only other member of this family that we saw on Garzacocha
was a Paruque, seen as a gleaming pair of yellow eyes, picked
out in the beam of a torch after dark - the same evening that we
saw Zigzag Heron
after dark is the time to see a speciality of Garzacocha - Zigzag
Heron. This is the most reliable site in the whole of the Amazon
basin to see this elusive heron. On a late afternoon trip around
Garzacocha, José spent some time with a powerful torch trying
to find these birds (about 6 pm-ish). His efforts were rewarded
by excellent torchlight views (at 6.10 pm) of two Zigzag Herons
perched in low branches not far from the boardwalk landing stage.
Not an impressive bird to see - like a dark, streaky Striated Heron
- but a very good 'tick'. We also heard their distinctive 'hhoow-oo'
call (as the field guide describes it). Other herons that we saw
or heard from Garzacocha included Rufescent Tiger-heron (brief
and poor view) and Black-crowned Night-heron (heard only
the short 'bark').
on the lake were sparse, and we had only a brief view of Green-and-rufous
Kingfisher. Swifts and swallows were also few in variety. The
swifts we saw were Short-tailed Swift (seen nearly every
day, and easy to ID). The only hirundines we saw over Garzacocha
were White-winged Swallows, which we saw every day.
there were plenty of passerines we saw from Garzacocha. The open
views from the lake meant that we could see canopy-loving birds
that are harder to see when you are walking the trails. One spectacular
bird was the unique Cream-coloured Woodpecker; it was a distant
view, but the bird was on a dead tree and we could clearly see the
red head mark (that made it a male). That view reminds me of a word
of caution - when you are birding from a small paddle canoe, make
ALL your movements small and cautious, or you risk tipping yourself
and your fellow passengers into the water! Just moving your head
through 90 degrees is enough to cause a serious rocking of the boat!
Garzacocha bird that José made us work the hardest for was
a Cocha Antshrike. He'd clearly staked out this bird, not
far from the Lodge. He beached the canoe and we stayed there for
about half an hour. He picked up the bird almost immediately, and
spent the rest of the time trying to get us onto it. At one point,
I got so fed up that I said "Yes, José, I've seen the
bird, low on the ground". Bad mistake. He said, "No, you
haven't seen it; it's about 3 metres above the ground". I never
tried to bluff José again! Eventually, he did manage to get
us to see the bird (after he'd clambered onto land, and almost flushed
the bird). Our brief view was a black bird with a longish hanging-down
tail. The field guide's description of habitat, vocalisation and
likely sighting areas is spot on. Phew! A hard bird, but I guess
it was worth it.
to this area we had a good view of a Speckled Chacalaca;
the white speckling down its front was well seen.
easier than the Cocha Antshrike was the brilliant Red-capped
Cardinal. We saw 4 of these birds on one Garzacocha trip and
a single on another day. They perched low down on branches over
the water, and we had views on both perched and flying birds.
birds from Garzacocha we only heard. Most notable was the Long-billed
Woodcreeper, whose long, single descending note I have previously
noted. But there were also the calls of the Cinnamon Attila
(I noted it as a 'pi-peeah' descending note; the field guide describes
it as 'whoor, wheer, wheeér-whet'; take your pick!) and the
long, single note (sometimes high, sometimes low) of the Cinereous
Tinamou. As with all bird calls, unless you are familiar with
them, you have little chance of identifying the bird. We had a copy
of the tape "Birds of La Selva", and we listened to it
many times before our visit. But it's difficult to remember bird
calls in this way, and we would have been completely lost without
the trained ears of José.
non-water birds we saw from Garzacocha included:
Donacobius - good views, which allowed us to see the yellow
cheek and eye ring, fine barring on the edge of the breast and
the white wing spot. In a family of its own, and a nice bird to
see. We saw two birds from Garzacocha, and five from Mandicocha.
Ani - fairly common around the lake. And we saw them from
the Lodge balcony as well.
- both Great and Lesser. Still struggled to separate
the two. We knew Greater from Trinidad and Tobago. The field guide
suggests that there is no difficulty in separating the two. We
were not so experienced!
Palmcreeper - two birds seen high in a palm tree, giving clear
views of their rufous tails. Heard their high trilling call.
Jay - we heard them frequently from the lake, and had a silhouetted
view of one bird. No definitive sightings, but positive IDs -
thanks to José!
Aracara - 4 flying, and perched. Huge bill, which seemed as
long as its body.
Macaw - our only sighting of this species. 2 flying and calling.
Jacomar - heard only. Good views later from Mandicocha.
(Cuvier's) Toucan - 2 in flight. Better views from the Canopy
Pigeon - 2 flying. Heard them frequently during our stay at
La Selva. I always find it strange hearing pigeons in tropical
Motmot - poor view of underside of bird at top of tree. Had
many, better views of this species in Trinidad and Tobago.
Screech-owl. My notebook says we saw one, but I can only remember
the repeated low notes.
Trogan - (female) - perched high in tree. My notes say 'yellow
and dark (blue)'.
Trogan - heard only.
Sirbytes ; another flycatcher bird that made no impression
on me at all!
one of our Garzacocha trips, we had excellent views of a small troupe
of Squirrel Monkeys crashing through the lakeside trees.
The only other monkey species we saw during our visit was the orange-furred
Dusky Titi Monkey, which we saw on the trail from the Canopy
Tower, not far from the Lodge.
day, when going around the lake, we came across a few Amazon
Yellow-spotted Turtles. These are often common by the shore
near the Lodge, but had temporarily been driven away by some canoe
repair work. One evening, we saw a Fishing Bat flying low
over the water.
final note about Garzacocha: we were told that it holds both the
Red and the White species of Pirana. We were
also told that it is perfectly safe to swim in the lake. Not wanting
to pass up on a 'travellers tale' that we had "swum with Piranas",
we had a delightful dip in Garzacocha one afternoon. The landing
stage has a ladder into the water, which made a perfect swimming
platform, and the water, although murky, was invitingly warm. Since
Piranas are basically fruit-eating fish, and only turn to meat (mainly
other fish) when water levels are low, there was no danger in Garzacocha.
Neither did the nocturnal Speckled Cayman cause us any concern;
we saw the gleaming eyes of one in torchlight, but never found one
in the daytime.