Home -> Diary
-> Amazon basin -> Terra Firma Forest
13 - 16 October
10. Terra Firma Forest
forest on the side of the Rio Napo opposite to La Selva Lodge (the
south side) is 'Terra Firma' - land which does not get seasonally
flooded by the Napo. The ground is higher here, possibly the result
of river bluffs - I'm not sure on this point. This was really hard
birding country, and José was in his element!
had two long days partially in this habitat. On Sunday 14th October,
we left the Lodge at 6 am and did not return until about 4 pm. Two
days later, we had an 8-hour trip. True, we spent some time getting
to the south bank, but we spent a lot of time on Terra Firma. The
trails are much smaller than around the Lodge. Indeed, there were
times when I wondered if we were still on a trail. Here, a guide
is necessary just for finding your way around, let alone for finding
and identifying the birds! In places, the trail is muddy (especially
after rain) and steep, but there was nothing excessively difficult.
Firma is prime Antbird country - and this is challenging birding.
However, because these families are usually dark coloured, and spend
a lot of time in low light conditions, they mainly have loud and
distinctive calls to identify each other by. So it is often quite
easy to hear an Antbird and, if you are reasonably familiar with
the calls (which we are not) to identify it. But actually seeing
the bird can take a lot of hard work and patience. On our first
visit, for example, we were within about 3 metres of a clear calling
Black-faced Antthrush, and failed to see it. Two days later
we finally got a view of this small, dark-coloured (looked black
in the dim light) bird, moving around the forest floor with its
were luckier with the similarly-named Black-faced Antbird,
and had close views of the black patch on its grey head. Here's
some of the other Antbirds that we saw well:
Antshrike - male and female, perched on a low branch
Antshrike - male. Noted sharp beak, pale-grey underparts,
and darker upper parts. High on a branch.
Antshrike - male and female. Noisy, squeaky call. Noted the
stout bill characteristic of this family. Male appeared to have
very dark red legs, although this is not described in the field
guide; may have been a trick of the light.
Antbird - clear views of the fine white streaking on the back.
Antshrike - male. All grey, with wings slightly darker, silvery
beak, short tail hung down.
Antbird - seen well, and spots on wings clearly seen. Why
this name? - most Antbirds have spots on their wings! A chattering
those, according to my field notes, were the only Antbirds that
we saw well! We heard clearly many others, and had 'flit' views
of some of them. Notable amongst the calling birds were Warbling
Antbird (heard the descending, rasping call many times, and
only had a very brief view of this streaky-looking bird), Great
Antbird (a staccato chirrup), White-plumed Antbird (a
flit view) and Great Antshrike (tree-top view of a moving
bird - very different from the close views that we've had at the
Asa Wright Lodge in Trinidad).
those were the only Antbirds with which we made contact! I think
that the 'macho' thing about Antbird birding is that it can arouse
the hunter instinct in you - hearing the call, then creeping as
noiselessly as possible towards the sound, trying to spot the bird.
I got quite adept at moving pretty quietly over a leaf-and-twig-covered
trail. I guess that's why I got more out of Antbird spotting than
Ruth; she got rather bored after the first five minutes or so of
an 'Antbird hunt'!
Terra Firma birds
was plenty of other birding interest in the Terra Firma forest,
and we had some fantastic views of other species. Some of them,
such as Tanagers, were canopy birds, others were forest floor birds.
only once came across a good Tanager flock, and spent some fifteen
neck-aching minutes scanning them. We picked out:
Tanager (I felt pleased to have found and ID'd this one, which
we had previously seen in Trinidad).
Tanager - noted the reddish underparts. Since we were below
it, couldn't see the opal colour on the rump.
were some other great highlights:
Manakin - we'd seen some excellent TV sequences of this bird,
so it was great seeing it live, which we did on several occasions.
One view in particular was so typical, with its 'surprised-looking',
inquisitive eye. The filaments on the tail were clear to see on
each occasion, but we couldn't tell each time whether we were
looking at a male or a female (depends on the length of the filaments).
Potoo - we saw birds on both of our visits, the first view
being of a huge brown bird, roosting in a tree, with its long
tail hanging down, and the white spot in its upper wing clearly
visible. However, the second view, two days later, was really
special. About 7 metres above us was a bird in the typical Potoo
roosting stance, looking like an extension of the tree. However,
between the bird and the tree was a yellowish, fuzzy head - a
chick, held between its parent and the trunk of the tree. Magic!
Leaftosser - w saw a female, hopping around the leaf litter.
Not a spectacular view on its own. But, just behind us, in a branch
no more than a metre above the ground, was a delicate nest with
three nestling Black-tailed Leaftosser chicks snuggled down. They
were virtually featherless, so I guess they were not more than
a few days old. They looked so exposed and vulnerable. A short
while later, we had a tropical rainstorm, which lasted about 1½
hours. The chicks would have been completely exposed, but I guess
that the mother would have returned to the nest to shelter them.
The field guide said nothing about nesting habits. But I suppose
we would have had to buy the companion volume "Status, Distribution
& Taxonomy" to get this level of detail!
Mourner - not notable for its view, although we saw it well
(brown - don't believe the field guide - , spots on wing, long
tail with slight fork), its call was so distinctive - a long,
plaintive, descending note, which gives the bird its "mourner"
Nunbird - excellent views, seeing its red beak and white cheeks.
Puffbird - a classic view with all the field guide features
well seen. The bird sat motionless and allowed us to pass it from
a distance of 4 metres and view it from another, closer angle.
It was only about 1.5 metres above the forest floor, on a low
branch. The 'spiky' plumage, shown in the field guide, was very
Piculet - what a tiny woodpecker! We saw it perched with what
looked like a rather dark back and a heavy beak.
Manakin - just one view, but seen well.
Manakin - ditto. Seen perched, and blue crown well seen. Was
this the same bird we saw in Tobago? No - just checked the records
- it was the Blue-backed Manakin! Another lifer! So many here
Tapaculo - didn't make a great impression on me, but my field
notes record: "small dark bird in undergrowth, dark on top,
paler underneath". Not a great field description! Call was
a series of low notes.
Barbet - a lovely family! This bird gave us a striking view
with its yellow throat and red crown. Call was a repeated, loud,
Trogon - another great family! This bird gave us great views,
not very high up.
Trogon - female. Again, good views of the bird sitting very
still, about 5 metres up, on a bare branch.
Puffbird - excellent, typical views of this charismatic bird.
We first saw it, sitting very still, low down through a dark undergrowth
tunnel. The trail went past closer to it, and the bird never moved,
allowing us to see the spiky head and throat feathering, and the
white band across its chest.
Toucan - our previous views, in Trinidad, had always been
distant 'scoped views, so it was very pleasing to see one much
Jacamar - this was a tribute to José's incredible eyesight.
We all heard the bird clearly enough, and left the trail to follow
its call. José actually spotted it with his naked eye,
about 15 metres up, partially obscured by a branch, giving an
under-view only. It took us several minutes, following the line
of his laser pointer, to see the bird's long beak projecting beyond
Piha - the call of this flycatcher is described in the field
guide as "one of the best known and most powerful voices
of any bird occurring in the Amazon basin, but nonetheless it
is often a frustrating bird to see, even when one is calling right
in front of you." It was certainly our experience, because
towards the end of our 2nd day on Terra Firma, we came across
at least two birds calling, very close, and it took us a good
10 minutes to get a glimpse of this grey, long-tailed bird. We
later identified the call near to the Lodge.
Antbirds may be the speciality of this habitat, but, for me, the
views of the other passerines were more interesting.
was in the Terra Firma forest that we saw the only snake of the
trip (apart from a Chonta which one of the guides had captured
and showed in a sack at the Lodge). We had sheltered under a dense
tree from our only tropical downpour for about an hour. Ruth had
put her black rucksack (with a long, trailing black strap) on the
ground. She looked down once and saw a 1-metre long black snake
getting very friendly with the strap! We backed away, and called
José over. He ID'd it as a harmless South American Sipo.
the same day, we saw a large bat flying low through the trees, but
could not identify it. The only other mammal we saw in Terra Firma
was an Amazon (Tree?) Squirrel with a light brown tail.