14 January 2010

Sacha: Amazon Day 3 (Part I)...Ecuador: December 28, 2009

ISLAND HOPPING. The day began and ended with an owl: first a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl calling for our attention just outside the restaurant pre-dawn, (that got perhaps more attention than it wanted once our spotlight found it!) A rather larger owl was found at the end of the day too...

Along the huge
Napo River there are numerous islands of varying vegetation. Some being more heavily covered with trees, being more mature, while others contain little more than low scrub, being in the earlier stages of succession. This is where we headed on this day to go after a number of island specialists, by checking out multiple islands along the Rio Napo. The first island we stopped off at contained very little vegetation, just some bare sand and low tangled scrub. Here we quickly found White-bellied Spinetail, several River Tyrannulets were also highly visible, and a pair of Lesser Wagtail-Tyrants also came out of the low scrub into a small bush for a time too. There was also a mixed flock of seedeaters that every so often emerged onto the top of the low vegetation when they revealed a few male Lesson's Seedeaters among them. A couple of large yellow-headed birds that flew off the island and alighted on trees along the banks of the Napo proved to be a pair of gorgeous lemon-and-black Oriole Blackbirds.

There was no rest for the wicked though, and we were soon off to another island, this time a more mature one, with large
cecropia trees and a dense understorey, very different in character from our first. Soon after getting out of the boat we chased down a Castelnau's Antshrike sneaking through the brush, and then we heard IT, the call of the fabulous Rufous-headed Woodpecker. One of the finest 'peckers in the Amazon from the striking celeus genus. It took some tracking down, as it moved from one cecropia trunk to another (each time buried below the line of the understorey that hid it well), but in the end we managed to find up to four different birds, all of which allowed themselves to be scoped up in the end. Leaving the trees behind we remained on the same island kicking about in the sparser understorey on the edges where we finally found a Parker's Spinetail that played hide-and-seek with us for a while before finally relenting!

It was then onto yet another island, this one more like the first, with just a low thick tangled layer of vegetation. Just enough to hide a crake or two in. Which was excatly what we had beached ourselves on the island for, the dinky Gray-breasted Crake. We waded into the vegetation (picking up a few chiggers in the process that reminded us of their presence for some itchy time after!), and put the i-pod into gear. Quickly we heard two or three of these phantom crakes calling from a distance away. Then suddenly they were calling right beside us, and we shifted our gaze this way and that at the first sign of any twitching grass stems. Finally, after much head turning, and twitching of grass, we saw at least three of these tiny birds crawling through the grass, that even gave us some stellar looks in the process as they scurried by mere feet away from us!

Our final few stops for our morning on the river, as the day heated up and activity started to dye, was along the banks of the mighty Napo itself, where first a pair of
Brown Jacamars posed on an open branch, and then a cryptic male Ladder-tailed Nightjar (photo) was spotted sleeping inconspicuously on the banks, before we headed back to Sacha for the afternoon...

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