Monday, 9 September 2019

A Quick Trip to Ecuador: Part 7 (first full day at Sani Lodge)

Part 1: Intoduction, Mindo Valley (March 24, 2019)
Part 2: Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary (March 25, 2019)
Part 3: Mindo Waterfall Trail, Papallacta Pass (March 26, 2019)
Part 4: Guango Lodge (March 27, 2019)
Part 5: Papallacta Pass (March 27, 2019)
Part 6: Travel to Sani Lodge, first night hike (March 28, 2019)
Part 7: First full day at Sani Lodge (March 29, 2019)
Part 8: Second full day at Sani Lodge (March 30, 2019)
Part 9: Amazonian river islands (March 31, 2019)
Part 10: Last nighthike, final morning at Sani Lodge (March 31 - April 1, 2019)

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March 29, 2019

A 4:30 AM wakeup time was in order, giving us about five hours of sleep. If we had to choose between night-hiking and getting adequate rest, I think our decision will always be obvious! At least it will be on a short trip like this...

We had a breakfast of fresh fruit and fried eggs on homemade bread along with coffee / tea. We had packed our bags since we would be staying in a tent at the campsite that evening. The campsite is perhaps half an hour away, if one is paddling at a good pace.

It was difficult to figure out from Gustavo what exactly the plan for the day was, in part due to his relatively weak English skills and our poor Spanish. At breakfast I again expressed my interest in exploring a variety of habitats during our stay at Sani, including varzea, terra firme, river islands and of course the canopy tower, and mentioned some of my target species. A lot of times he would nod affirmatively if I asked about the possibility of seeing a particular species, but in hindsight he did not actually know many of these species or the locations to search for them. At any rate, we headed out by canoe as the sky slowly lightened, with Sergio also joining us. I made the mistake of asking Gustavo what several of the calls were to no avail. I quickly realized that I would have better luck just trying to figure it all out on my own. Our first birds of the day included some vocalizing Great and Cinereous Tinamous, a Tropical Screech-Owl and a few Common Pauraques while the sky was still dark. We tried playing the tape for Cocha Antshrike in one area without success, but we did see a Boat-billed Heron on an exposed branch nearby.

Paddling along the oxbox lake - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

We paddled a little further along the oxbow lake, seeing quite a few Black-capped Donacobius. These  overgrown wren-like birds were quite conspicuous in the reeds and grasses along the waterways and oxbox lake, their interesting calls providing the backdrop to our paddling.

Black-capped Donacobius - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

We encountered a Ladder-tailed Nightjar as well, a species that I was really hoping to come across here since they find habitat in riparian areas in the Amazonian lowlands.

Ladder-tailed Nightjar - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

I was on high alert for new birds since it was our first dawn foray through varzea forest. A few new species appeared and I added Dot-backed Antbird by song as well as a flyover Bare-necked Fruitcrow.  Huge Owl Butterflies (Caligo sp.) lined the mossy trunks along the waterway while unidentified frogs disappeared below the water's surface whenever we approached too closely to the shoreline. A Hoatzin had decided to nest directly overtop of the creek; it exploded off the nest as we drifted underneath. This was a pattern that would repeat itself whenever we would pass that area.

Caligo placidianus - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Hoatzin - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Hoatzin on nest - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

The next pulse of excitement was caused by a pair of Plumbeous Antbirds that furtively ducked in and out of the shadows deep within the flooded forest. Plumbeous Antbird is a specialist of varzea throughout the western Amazon basin. We also came across our first White-chinned Jacamar in this area as well.

Plumbeous Antbird - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

A light rain picked up, slowly becoming more annoying as the time passed. Gustavo pulled through by spotting a Common Potoo roosting on a snag beside the creek. Awesome!

Common Potoo - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

While this was a species that I had heard on numerous occasions, it was the first one I had seen.

Common Potoo - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

The rain fortunately abated when we pulled up to the dock, signalling our arrival at the campsite. It consisted of numerous thatch-roof platforms, each covering the tent and a couple of chairs. All of the platforms were connected by boardwalk, as was a central area that contained the kitchen and some picnic tables. While the camping area was in need of some maintenance it seemed like a pretty decent spot.

Campsite - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

While we waited for Gustavo and Sergio to get organized, Laura and I poked around a bit. The birds were not very active, likely due to the recent rain, but I soon picked up a few lifers with a heard-only Amazonian Trogon and both Great-billed and Straight-billed Hermits checking out some of the flowers along the edges of the clearing. A brief bit of sun was enough to activate several butterflies as well.

Hyposcada anchiala - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Menelaus Morpho (Morpho menelaus) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

A short while later we began our walk through the forest, hoping that the rain would continue to hold off for as long as possible. Again, the birding was a bit slow, but lizards, frogs, toads and butterflies were around in numbers. It is interesting how many species of butterflies were active in the dreary, overcast weather (and even in light rain).

Ithomia amarilla - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Haetera piera - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

This is Loxopholis parietalis, a species of spectacled lizard from western Amazonia.

Loxopholis parietalis - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

South American Common Toad (Rhinella margaritifera) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Allobates insperatus - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Oleria onega - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Pierella lucia - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Unidentified fleshbelly frog (Craugastoridae) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Though the birding was slow and Laura and I kept our eyes mostly focused on the ground, we did add a few life birds. One little mixed flock contained a Dusky-throated Antshrike and a Striped Woodcreeper, while we also came across a pair of Gray Antwrens and some vocal Dwarf Tyrant-Manakins.

We were just over halfway done our loop in the woods when the skies opened. Our cameras and phones went into our packs, and our ponchos went on our backs. We made pretty decent time on the walk back but our stomachs were growling when we finally arrived back at the rain-soaked campsite. The promised 2 hour walk was actually closer to 4 hours in duration and we were famished.

Rain at the campsite - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Two other staff from Sani Lodge had arrived while we were out walking and they were busy preparing the meal while the rest of us attempted to dry off under the shelter created by the thatched roof. Lunch was delectable; impressive considering that it was prepared all the way out here in a basic kitchen.

After lunch, Gustavo informed me that one of the birding guides, his uncle, would be joining us for the duration of the trip which was excellent news to me. Based on our conversation I got the impression that we would wait at the campsite until he arrived, at which point we would go birding.

Gustavo and Sergio headed to their tents to nap while Laura and I also had a siesta. After two hours, there was still no sign of this promised guide. Sergio/Gustavo were still sleeping so Laura and I started getting a little frustrated. Eventually Sergio and Gustavo woke up and I inquired again about what the plan was. It turns out that we would be meeting the birding guide the next morning. I was curious why we had just wasted a couple of hours in the afternoon, if we were not actually waiting on a guide. It was getting to be late in the afternoon and daylight was running out.

Sergio and Gustavo could sense my frustration and I inquired about the possibility of visiting the canopy tower. They agreed and we were soon off. We paddled for twenty minutes, arrived at a dock, and made the ten or fifteen minute walk through the forest to the canopy tower. A couple of birds up ahead on the trail revealed themselves as Sunbitterns! We were thrilled to see this iconic and secretive species and I managed a single blurry record photo of one before they slunk into the deep forest.

Sunbittern - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

The tower was seriously impressive, climbing 35 m up into the canopy. A wooden platform had been built among the branches of the huge Kapok tree adjacent to the tower which provided several vantage points over the forest.

Canopy tower - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Birding at the canopy tower - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Sergio at the base of the Kapok holding the canopy tower platform - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Fortunately the rain held off for our hour-long vigil and the birding was excellent. A pair of Double-toothed Kites were nesting in one of the outer branches of the tree hosting the platform, giving very close views.

Double-toothed Kite - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador 

Even better - a Great Potoo was also roosting here, only a few feet above our heads!

Great Potoo - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

There were too many things to inspect. Gilded Barbets calling from below, flocks of Black-headed Parrots and Cobalt-winged Parakeets wheeling past, several Plum-throated Cotingas gleaming in the last rays of the suns, and small groups of Many-banded Aracaris sitting in distant treetops. And that is just mentioning the lifers!

Many-banded Aracaris - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

It was a memorable evening on the tower to say the least, and salvaged what had been a largely disappointing day up to that point. (That is, if there even is such a thing as a disappointing day in the Amazon!)

View from the canopy tower - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

The forest was dark while we made our way back along the muddy trail, so Laura and I broke out our flashlights to go on snake patrol.

Painted Antnest Frog (Lithodytes lineatus) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

It was Laura's turn to find a snake this time. Her flashlight beam caught the telltale shimmer of a serpentine shape draped amongst a trailside thicket formed by a downed tree. Another Rainbow Boa!!

Laura with a Western Rainbow Boa (Epicrates cenchria) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

And still, the surprises for the evening were far from over.

I spotted some eye-shine in a tree flanking the tree and quickly realized that it was a big snake! Sergio and Gustavo maneuvered the canoe into the right area until I was close enough to grab the Amazon Tree Boa. I misjudged my aim slightly which allowed the big girl to take a nip at my hand. But she soon settled down and calmly wrapped around my arm for the remaining few minutes of the boat trip.

Amazon Tree Boa (Corallus hortulanus) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Barely a minute had passed when my flashlight beam picked up a tiny kingfisher roosting on a streamside twig. An American Pygmy Kingfisher! Laura and I had seen this diminutive species once in Guyana but it was a brief flyby. Given that my left hand was occupied by the boa and my camera settings were not set up right, I came away pretty pleased with my one-handed photo.

American Pygmy Kingfisher - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

We met Jorge (the cook) back at camp and showed him our find, still wrapped around my left arm "Para la cena?" he joked, complete with a devious smile. Fortunately snake was not on the menu tonight!

That evening we left for another night-hike on some of the trails around the campsite clearing. Since we were in a new area we managed a bunch of new frogs, along with many repeats from the previous evening.

Gunther's Banded Tree Frog (Boana fasciata) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Basin Tree Frog (Boana lanciformis) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Map Tree Frog (Boana geographica) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

It had been a long day up to this point but despite our fatigue we pressed on. Around each bend could be something novel.

Assassin Bug sp. (Reduvidae) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Unidentified skipper (Hesperiidae) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

The patterning on this katydid blew me away. It is incredible how much it looked like a leaf that had been partially eaten.

Unidentified katydid (Tettigoniidae) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Pristimantis kichwarum - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Ommatolampis sp. - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

We made it through most of our walk without any snakes but it was Sergio who pulled through again. He discovered this beautiful Dipsas catesbyi, an arboreal species that preys on snails.

Catesby's Snail-Eater (Dipsas catesbyi) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Catesby's Snail-Eater (Dipsas catesbyi) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Catesby's Snail-Eater (Dipsas catesbyi) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Catesby's Snail-Eater (Dipsas catesbyi) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Below are a few more of my photos from that evening's nightwalk.

Unidentified spider  - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Caligo euphorbus - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Unidentified wandering spider (Ctenidae) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Tityus asthenes - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Unidentified wandering spider (Ctenidae) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

South American Common Toad (Rhinella margaritifer) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

White Satyr (Pareuptychia ocirrhoe) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Unidentified fleshbelly frog (Craugastoridae) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Yellow-tipped Helicopter (Mecistogaster ornata) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Unidentified cricket (Ensifera) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

Once we concluded the walk I decided to do a quick photoshoot with the Amazon Tree Boa that I had safely stored in a pillowcase. Luckily she was quite docile this time around and I spent about half an hour with her.
Amazon Tree Boa (Corallus hortulanus) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

It was tough to let her go into some riverine trees once I had taken my photo. What a snake!

Amazon Tree Boa (Corallus hortulanus) - Sani Lodge, Sucumbios Province, Ecuador

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Part 1: Intoduction, Mindo Valley (March 24, 2019)
Part 2: Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary (March 25, 2019)
Part 3: Mindo Waterfall Trail, Papallacta Pass (March 26, 2019)
Part 4: Guango Lodge (March 27, 2019)
Part 5: Papallacta Pass (March 27, 2019)
Part 6: Travel to Sani Lodge, first night hike (March 28, 2019)
Part 7: First full day at Sani Lodge (March 29, 2019)
Part 8: Second full day at Sani Lodge (March 30, 2019)
Part 9: Amazonian river islands (March 31, 2019)
Part 10: Last nighthike, final morning at Sani Lodge (March 31 - April 1, 2019)