Jose Illanes and I continued our extremely enjoyable tour with the group from the Cape Bird Club of South Africa. Having spent some time in the Andes, we shifted down into the eastern lowlands, and into the vast Amazon Basin. After a few days in the high Andes the considerable jump in temperature and humidity were palpable. Our first full day in the steamy Amazon jungle saw us undertake one of the classic activities in the region: a visit to the Yasuni National Park clay licks, where parrots gather daily to feast on the clay and the rich minerals it brings to their diets. For our Amazon stay we were based at the incredible, and now world-famous, Sacha Lodge, which meant we would be just a boat ride away from a couple of accesible parrot licks. The first of this we sidled up to in our motorised canoe, and watched as FOUR species of parrots dropped into to an insignificant-looking bank of clay along the mighty Napo River itself, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon River. Mealy Amazons and Blue-headed Parrots were the most numerous and conspicuous, while the odd Yellow-crowned Amazon was found in their midst too, along with some Dusky-headed Parakeets. As we drifted alongside them the activity was frantic, and the noise only just bearable, as parrots are surely one of the noisiest groups of birds, and at their noisiest around mineral-rich banks of clay.
Once we had soaked up this scene we went to witness another, although this time, the lick was on the ground, in a shallow cave, and was accessible by way of a short walk through the jungle. This short walk was worth mentioning, as we hit some activity where a number of antbirds seemed to be present, most notably the striking Black-spotted Bare-eye, found within the 'scope by Heather when trying to see another, much dowdier species of antbird in the very same 'scope view! I had spent long hours in both Ecuador and Peru chasing this ant-beauty, but only now got the crisp looks I had craved so long for; fantastic.
On reaching the large, purpose-built, blind/hide we joined the ranks of people who'd come to watch the main event: parrots dropping down below eye-level, and at close range, offering photo opportunities aplenty, and rare views of these often difficult to see canopy birds. Chief among them were the hordes of Cobalt-winged Parakeets, one of the most numerous parrots in this part of the Amazon, though they were joined by two other, more striking, and scarcer species, the Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet, which is incredibly difficult to see away from this "stage", and the extremely handsome Orange-cheeked Parrot, one of which even came and landed in front of the blind as if to dare us to take photos, which of course we did! The action was magnetic, although once an unidentified raptor swooped in at high speed, every single, screaming and squawking, parrot took to the air immediately and scrambled for an exit in their panic, which meant the vast majority of these hundreds, if not thousands, of birds came screaming through the air and screaming through the blind we were sat in, causing more than a few of us to flinch in the process. Just minutes later the forest fell silent, as every single parrot had abandoned the lick, and the usual raucous chorus that accompanies their presence had left with them.
More frogs, birds, and animals to come from the Amazon...