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 -> Rio Napo

The Rio Napo. Photo: Ruth TraynorAmazon Basin Diary
13 - 16 October 2001
3. The Rio Napo

Apart from the 5 hours we spent on the Napo travelling to and from La Selva (two hours down, three back), we were to see quite a bit of the river at and around La Selva itself.

Birding from the high-speed motorised canoe is not easy, but we were helped by the presence of Rodney, one of La Selva's naturalist guides. It was he who identified for us Grey-breasted Martin and White-banded Swallow, although the latter is so clearly marked that we would have had no ID problems.

Herons were sprinkled all along the river. Cocoi and Striated Herons were in singles, as were Great Egrets. The Snowy Egrets were mainly in small flocks of about 6 or so birds. A small number of forest birds flew over, including 5 Crested Oropendolas, a single Palm Tanager and (not strictly a forest bird), Shiny Cowbird. We also had a distant view of a Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, perched on a dead tree. From time to time, on the river bank, we would see a solitary, well-named, Drab Water-tyrant - quite a common species.

On our return journey, four days later, we saw mainly the same species, but we did add Yellow-billed Tern to our trip list, a single bird flying downstream.

As I said, we spent some time on or around the Rio Napo whilst staying at La Selva, so it's worth mentioning some of the species we encountered (I'll deal with the Rio Napo islands separately).

Swifts and hirundines naturally frequent the river, although the only swift we saw - and it was common - was Short-tailed Swift, easy to identify. White-winged Swallows were seen every day, with fewer numbers of White-banded Swallows. We saw no other martins other than the Grey-breasted Martin on our journey to La Selva.

One bird we were surprised to see by the river was Swallow-winged Puffbird, distinctive with its short tail. Most puffbirds are forest species, but this one frequents river banks. Other forest birds that we did see were parrots, flying over. Clear views of the sky are infrequent in the forest, but the open skies of the Napo make it easier to see flying birds. We had many flight views of Mealy Amazon and Blue-headed Parrots over the river. Sometimes, views were good enough to see the red wing patches on the Mealy Amazons.

We saw a few waders by the river, of which the most common was Spotted Sandpiper. When visiting an island close to La Selva, we had one view of Collared Plover (much like a Ringed Plover, only with two chest bands). A single Lesser Yellowlegs was in the same area.

Of course, no visit to the Amazon basin would be complete without a visit to a salt lick, and the parrot spectacular! We had some trouble organising this, although we made our intentions clear. On our first day out, our guide, José (much more of whom later), landed briefly at the parrot lick landing site, and returned, saying that it was no good - there were only two species of parrots on the lick (we had poor and distant views of many Dusky-headed Parrots in the trees around the lick, which is a few hundred metres inland from the river). We accepted this with good grace, but on day three, when we were scheduled to try again, we realised that José was not even going to stop. We had to be very insistent, and we finally got our way!

This particular salt lick is a kilometre or so downstream from La Selva. We had learned about it from Norby Lopez, our Cotapaxi guide, who is working to establish a new Lodge in the area. One of their first ventures was to set up a warden and a hide next to this particular lick. Norby told us that there was a fee of $3 per person, that is payable to the Lodge that organised the trip for you; Sasha Lodge also have trips to this particular lick. I don't think that it was the money that bothered José, although he did raise this as an issue. No, the real problem for him was that he regarded 'parrot licks' as a tourist attraction, and not worthy of 'real birders'! We should have been flattered!

Dusky-headed Parrots on clay lick. Photo: Ruth TraynorAs it was, there was only one species of parrot at the salt lick - about 150 Dusky-headed Parakeets. It was fascinating watching how they first assembled in increasing numbers on branches near the lick. It reminded me of the scene in Hitchcock's "The Birds", where the crows came in increasing numbers to the childrens' climbing frame. Then, as if a signal had been given, they descended on the lick, scratching and eating the mineral-rich clay, which is an antidote to the jungle toxins. They certainly cleared away the butterflies which had been on the lick before them! It was a great spectacle, and I'm glad that we insisted on seeing it. Lesson: don't accept everything that the guide wants to do!

Parrots were not the only flying birds that were easier to see by the river; raptors were also easier to spot. We had several good views of Greater Yellow-headed Vultures near the river and a couple of Yellow-headed Caracaras. The latter seemed to like the bare parts of the Rio Napo islands. And of course, there were the American Black Vultures, up to 10 in the sky at one time.

I had expected to see kingfishers on the river, but the one at Coca was the only one; the kingfishers that we did see were on the lakes and back waters.

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