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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The Várzea Forest

Grey-capped Flycatcher. Photo: Ruth TraynorAmazon Basin Diary
13 - 16 October 2001
6. The Várzea Forest

It's difficult to draw boundaries around La Selva, since some of the várzea we saw was from the Canopy Tower, and from the lakes. So I'm going to describe the birds that we saw which were NOT from these two habitats, but when we were walking around en route from one place to another, and around the Lodge.

Without doubt, the most frequently walked trail that you will do will be from the Rio Napo along the boardwalk to where you embark on the paddle canoe to cross Garzacocha to the Lodge - and back. Counting there-and-back separately, we walked this route six times!

There's a small area of cultivated land, and a house, near the river, and in the tall trees near here we heard (but failed to see) the Goldcrest-sized Orange-fronted Plushcrowns. But in this same area, we had excellent views of the spectacular Scarlet-crowned Barbet, with its yellow throat and red crown, and a repeated, loud, short, purring call. We also saw a Little Woodpecker near here twice, once perched on a bare tree, looking extremely tiny, like a Lesser-spotted Woodpecker.

On the Boardwalk at La Selva. Photo: Ruth TraynorThe boardwalk produced some good birds, but not without a lot of effort from José! Purplish Jacomar took some finding, despite hearing well its clear series of double descending notes. We saw and heard a number of Trogons from the boardwalk, but our best views of this family were in the terra firma forest (see that section).

The immediate area around the Lodge is not prolific, with the exception of the noisy colony of Yellow-rumped Casiques, nesting in a tree just outside the bar. These birds provided us with great entertainment, and, for Ruth, some fine photo opportunities. There's always some drama going on in a Casique colony! We did have excellent views of a pair of Gilded (formerly considered conspecific with Black-spotted) Barbets in a tree just outside our cabina. These seemed to be fairly common in the várzea forest.

From the balcony outside the bar, there's a good view over Garzacocha, and from here we saw a pair of Red-throated Caracaras, Greater Yellow-headed Vultures, and frequently saw the resident pair of Ospreys. White-winged Swallows were frequent visitors to the lake, in parties of 5 - 10 birds. We quite often saw Smooth-billed Ani flying in pairs.

Lessre Kiskadee. Photo: Ruth TraynorBird song from the Lodge was good. We frequently heard both Greater and Lesser Kiskadees (we knew the former well, but struggled with the latter), Hoatzin's weird calls were not far away from us, and we belatedly learnt the strange call of the Screaming Piha. One call heard frequently, from the Lodge, out in the várzea forest and from a canoe on Garzacocha was the long, single descending note of the Long-billed Woodcreeper; despite hearing this bird frequently, we never did see a single one - although we saw, during our stay, both Wedge-billed (twice) and Buff-throated (heard once, seen twice) Woodcreepers. But the Long-billed's call was so distinctive.

One day, we walked from the Lodge to the Canopy Tower, and then to Mandicocha. A pair of Yellow-tufted Woodpeckers was a nice find, although I have to say that they didn't make a lasting impression on me (birding overload!). Eastern Kingbird added to our flycatcher list, and a fly-over of two Yellow-crowned Parrots gave us good views. Those sightings were between the Lodge and the Canopy Tower.

The next leg of the várzea forest journey (quite a short walk really) produced some good birds. After I had left my scope and tripod behind a tree (to be collected later, covered in ants!), we had some fleeting views of Marbled Wood Quails. José saw 5, I glimpsed 2 and Ruth, a few feet behind me, dipped completely - they are so difficult to see, although described as 'common' in the area. We had similar fleeting views of a Squirrel Cuckoo (we later heard the chattering call of another bird) and heard only Sooty Antbird, Black-faced Antthrush and Nightingale Wren (a single, very clear note). In a tree on the edge of Mandicocha, we had an excellent view of a Common Piping-Guan, showing its huge tail, white in the wings long neck and white face patch - all the ID features; the Ecuador birds belong to a population that has sometimes been separated as a separate species, and you may see it described as Blue-throated Piping Guan (Pipile cumanensis). Whatever you call it, it was a good view of a confiding bird! On the way back to the Lodge, we had 'tick' views of a female Dusky-throated Antshrike and a Wedge-billed Woodcreeper.

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