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13 - 16 October
3. The Rio Napo
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.