Saturday 21 February 2015

Snow Bunting 1 Little Bunting 0 (21 February)

Saturday 21 February.  I started at Bexhill where the Snow Bunting was quickly found feeding between the toilet block and groyne 44.  A superb bird despite the unexpected drizzle making everything look rather dull.  I drove to Tunbridge Wells with the drizzle turning to sleet then snow, having to take a long diversion after an accident closed the road just short of my destination.  After dropping my camera off for a repair quote I headed to Old Lodge, arriving at noon.  There had been no sign of the Little Bunting with only 3 Reeds seen since 07:30.  I wandered around for two hours seeing 2 Wood Larks, 7 Goldcrests, 2 Coal Tits, a Jay, 2 Ravens and a single Reed Bunting before heading home.  I thought about calling in at Cuckmere Haven on the way but had had enough of driving 'across country'. Another time perhaps.

Snow Bunting at Bexhill
the best looking one I've seen for ages although they all are good

Old Lodge

the snow soon started to melt
 Wednesday 18 February.  My first day of real flexible retirement and an enjoyable afternoon walk around the Burgh with Megan.  We saw 5 Red Kites, 3 Buzzards, Peregrine, 14 Grey Partridges, 2 Stonechats, 3 Ravens and 5 Hares.  We were not alone in failing to find any Short-eared Owls, more is the pity.

Sunday 15 February.  Easing back into local birding, Megan and I walked around Cissbury Ring seeing 3 Buzzards and a Stonechat.

Thursday 12 February.  An estimated 12,000 Starlings around the Palace Pier and another 500 over the shell of the West Pier on my way home from work.  Impressive.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

ECUADOR 2015: Sani Lodge (02-09 February)

This blog covers the final part of a trip to Ecuador with Marc Brew, Jon Hornbuckle and Rod Martins.  We had been expertly guided by Gabriel (Gabo) Bucheli but had said a sad farewell to him at Coca as we prepared to visit Sani Lodge.  Unless stated photos were taken (mostly by me) with Jon's Canon Powershot SX50.

2 February (continued).  The final destination of our trip, Sani Lodge, was over two hours by motorboat down the Rio Napo.  We had said a sad goodbye to Gabo who had ‘handed us over’ to Domingo and was heading back to Quito.  He had been brilliant.  Domingo, our bird guide at Sani, told us that there would be a slight delay as a final passenger was on their way from Quito.  Our gear was put into plastic bags and loaded into a long, covered motorised canoe.  We boarded and just after midday the other passenger arrived, their flight having been delayed by an hour.  It was Phil Rostron, Jon’s main World List rival!  We were given a packed lunch and set off speeding down the Rio Napo which, unlike in 1986 when I had visited with Nick Preston, was busy with a variety of craft.  Then, in 1986, we had had a good time despite having no guide or recordings and sitting for a day and a half on the riverbank at Primavera waiting for a boat back to Coca.  While at Primavera Nick had seen a Collared Puffbird but I had been unable to refind it (the time waiting for a boat which I could have spent looking for it only rubbed it in more).  As the years rolled by it grew in desirability to the point where it was one of my most wanted birds.  Failing to see it in Colombia the previous year only added to this even though my chance of seeing one had been overstated (our guide there claiming to know two territories at Mitu boiled down to them having seen it just twice in nine visits, ours making that two out of tenL).  Collared Puffbird  was on the Sani list and a superb photo of one gracing the wall of their office in Quito was the first thing I saw when we went to pay the balance for our stay.  It raised my hopes but at San Isidro we met two very keen Finnish birders who had just come from Sani and had not seen one (the first thing I asked).  They had been with Domingo concentration on restricted range species but had also seen Harpy Eagle and Grey-winged Trumpeter.  Judging by their reaction to meeting ‘the Jon Hornbuckle’ he is something of a folk hero amongst list-oriented Finns!  With thoughts of what we might see spinning through my head we motored down the Rio Napo, passing Primavera (now apparently an oil exploration area), Limoncocha and La Selva. 
Rod and Jon in orange life-vests, Phil, just arrived, in blue
other river traffic included essential beer supplies
a very full tourist boat from another lodge, with the best parrot clay lick in Ecuador according to the waterline
despite being thousands of miles from the sea the Rio Napo was already very wide
the reciepient of the beer?
other river craft were quite varied

most were tug-boats that pushed barges
the 'boat stop' for Sani Lodge
We arrived at the docking point for Sani and were led for ten minutes or so down a boardwalk to a small creek.  The boardwalk had a central strip of green matting which was essential to prevent slipping – the rest of it was really treacherous as I found out when inadvertently stepping onto it.  Maybe it is OK when dry but it didn’t appear to have been dry for quite some time.  Here dug-out canoes were waiting to transfer us and our gear, which was following in a hand pulled cart, down the Challuayacu creek and lake to the lodge.  At times the creek was completely enclosed by trees and Marc who was in front briefly saw a Green & Rufous Kingfisher before it disappeared.  A Ringed Kingfisher was much more obliging.  It soon started raining and a flock of about 70 Greater Anis flew over as we were approaching the lodge.  That seemed the queue for the rain to increase in intensity.  We were welcomed and after a complementary drink that I passed on were told we were going to the camp-site for our first two nights.  We had chosen to camp for part of our stay to be in a different area of the forest (and as it was a bit cheaper).  It seemed like a good idea to do it first although the weather wasn’t ideal.  After being issued with ponchos (we didn’t need the offered wellingtons) Domingo and his boatman Pepe loaded us and our bags into the dugout and paddled us to the campsite.  It took about 45 minutes during which time the heavens completely opened.  I was a bit slow putting Jon’s camera into a plastic bag and some water got into it so it stopped working.  We qot quite wet too as water found its way in around the ponchos.  It was clear that there had been a lot of rain as the campsite jetty was almost completely underwater.  It was only a couple of minutes’ walk to the campsite where tents were set up under covered platforms.  A nice setting although the heavy rain had made everywhere muddy.  We had a warm drink in the dining hut, sorted out our stuff and watched the rain until it got dark.  I managed to get Jon’s camera to work again although it seemed a bit temperamental and would probably have benefitted from some direct sunlight.  Jon had given Domingo a hit list of the 15 or so species listed for Sani that he had not seen.  Domingo was quite encouraging about most of them mentioning areas where they might be seen, with the odd smile suggesting we’d be lucky with some.  A similar list from me would have been over 50 so I asked about the two I most wanted to see - Collared Puffbird and Grey-winged Trumpeter.  Domingo appeared quite confident about the puffbird but just smiled when I mentioned the trumpeter - at least it hadn’t been a shake of the head that Jon got when asking about Festive Coquette.  We were given a good meal and had an early night, the rain showing little sign of abating.

Phil, Domingo and Phil's dugout at the end of the boardwalk.  The green matting was essential to prevent losing one's footing.
Challuayacu creek
Challuayacu Lake from Sani Lodge
Masked Crimson Tanager in heavy rain
Glittering-bellied Emerald in heavy rain
White-winged Swallow during a brief intermission
Rod pondering Challuayacu Lake
heading up Challuayacu creek before Jon's camera got wet
Jon busy note writing at the camp site (his camera was working again but only temporarily)
3 February.  It stopped raining at some point during the night although was very overcast at dawn.  We were up and into the forest as it was getting light trying to track down a Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl that was calling from near the toilet block but we inadvertently flushed it.  We headed down the main trail and had not gone more than 10 minutes when Domingo heard a Collared Puffbird calling.  We were instructed to stay on the path while he and Pepe went in to look for it.  An anxious three minutes later (it seemed like 30) Pepe came back to tell us Domingo had found it but just as we got there it flew.  It hadn’t gone far and was quickly relocated sitting on a branch looking down on us.  It gave good views, albeit in not brilliant light.  We had hardly been at Sani any time at all and a long ambition had been realised although Jon’s camera deciding not to work rather took the edge off it.  Perhaps my putting it in a plastic bag hadn’t helped with the humidity it was already suffering from?  Walking back to the trail we disturbed a pair of Crested Owls, another ambition bird, and not long after Domingo asked if we had seen Rusty-belted Tapaculo before.  Only Jon had so it was quickly tape lured and slowly circled us giving good views.  Next up a calling Purplish Jacamar was tracked down ...  Things clearly couldn’t continue this way and they didn’t, Black-spotted Bare-eyes only gave fleeting glimpses and Domingo tried playing Lanceolated Monklet (I’m not sure if he had heard one or was trying an area where he knew they were).  No response it seemed although something about the right size and shape flew into the top of the tree above us.  At the same time Domingo heard Sapphire Quail Dove, one of Jon’s target birds, further down the trail and everyone moved off.  I had seen Sapphire Quail-Dove at Primavera and stayed a couple of minutes looking for the monklet but to no avail.  Even if it had been in view I doubt my eyesight would have been keen enough to spot it.  I caught the others up before they disappeared down an almost invisible side trail and after tracking the calling Quail -Dove for 15 minutes we had good views of it walking on the forest floor.  We went back to the camp very satisfied with a brilliant first foray into the Amazon rain forest.  We took the dugout back along to the Challuayacu creek to look for Cocha Antshrike and once there quickly found a responsive pair which gave good views (another smart bird).  We returned to the camp for lunch and afterwards saw a Lawrence’s Thrush singing from a tree top while two small groups of Blue & Yellow Macaws flew over.  We had only a short period of rain but it remained dull all day and not (camera) drying weather.  We went out again on the forest trails mid-afternoon and all but Marc couldn’t believe our good fortune when Domingo saw a Salvin’s Curassow on a log crossing the trail ahead of us.  Unfortunately Marc, who by the luck of rotation was last at this point and unsighted, didn’t see it.  I was just in front of Marc and saw it after it had dropped onto the other side of the log – a thick black neck and head with a bright red bill.  It then quickly walked away giving me diminishing back on views of the whole bird.  Not something that had really been on my radar or Jon had really rated his chances of seeing.  An hour or so later Domingo froze in a slightly more open area and muttered trumpeter and pointed.  I panicked and saw a trumpeter shape go across the trail ahead of us.  I got my bins up and briefly saw its back, grey wings and pale brown saddle before it disappeared.  We ‘chased’ it for 100m before it flew up into a tree, although all I saw was a shape flying up.  Thinking it would be like a Crowned Pigeon and be located sitting high up looking down on us I was disappointed to find it had kept going.  Hardly great views and I was very keen for better but I had seen most of my most wanted bird in South America.  Marc, who again had been unsighted, only saw it fly up.  Later I asked Domingo if it was unusual to see just one trumpeter as they usually go around in reasonable sized groups.  I was a bit shocked when he said there had been 10-15.  I had just caught the back end of presumably the last one.  I hoped it showed how very good Domingo was rather than how hopeless we were bur I suspect there was some of the later there too.  Collared Puffbird and views of Grey-winged Trumpeter on my first day, the pressure for me was really off and I hoped to thoroughly enjoy the rest of our stay.  I almost floated back to camp where we arrived at dusk.  The day wasn’t over though as the Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl started calling by the campsite within a few minutes of us returning and this time we successfully spotlighted it.  What a brilliant day!

Crested Owl taken by Marc.  Jon's camera was back in wet mode
Sani camp site 
4 February.  We were up at 03:45 and following Domingo into the forest by torch light to look/listen for Nocturnal Currasow.  We walked steadily for half an hour or so, or as steadily as one could by torchlight on muddy trails and across a couple of streams on fallen logs.  It was a damp morning with some light rain and nothing was calling at all, not even in response to playback.  We covered a reasonable amount of ground before turning back and returning to the camp site somewhat disappointed.  We were back at 05:30 to find breakfast being prepared and presumably the same Tawny-bellied Screech-Owl in full voice.  We packed and after breakfast left for the canopy tower in the dugout, the weather being no brighter.  A Common Potoo on the way a good start. The tower was reached by a 10-15 minutes’ walk up a low ridge from a narrow creek part-way back towards the lodge.  It was in a very impressive tree with a very substantial caged metal staircase going up to it.  The staircase seemed endless although I was pleasantly surprised that it was only 202 steps.  At the top was a large platform with stunning views over the canopy in every direction.  Sadly no Harpy Eagles were sitting out but we saw Blue-throated Piping-Guan, Black-headed Parrot, Mealy and Orange-winged Amazons, Yellow-billed Nunbird, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Spangled and Plum-throated Cotingas and best of all a roosting Great Potoo.  Marc also saw a calling Long-billed Woodcreeper but it had gone from view by the time I crossed the platform.  We dragged ourselves away and spent a couple of hours on a circular trail but were frustrated not to see a Golden-collared Toucanet that was calling (and moving around) in the canopy above us for at least ten minutes.  We were more successful with a female Blue-crowned Trogon.  We returned to the dugout and were paddled back along the creek and across the lake to the lodge.  As well as the usual Hoatzins and Black-capped Donacobius we saw two Bare-necked Fruitcrows distantly perched then in flight.  Sadly they were to be the only ones we saw.  At the lodge we were greeted by a tame trumpeter.  I never discovered how it came to be at Sani but was told it had been there for six months.  It was so brilliant I was tempted to try and bring it home!  Domingo showed us a pair of roosting Tropical Screech-Owls and we were then taken to our cabins, Rod and I had #6 and Jon and Marc #5.  They were very pleasant.  We had mosquito nets over the beds but did not really needed them as we were not troubled by insects at all.  After lunch we were paddled down the main channel and back along the boardwalk.  It was as slippery as when we had arrived.  Towards the Rio Napo end of the boardwalk a White-lored Antpitta was calling, one of our main targets.  It seemed no more than 40m away in a particularly thick patch.  Domingo imitated it but it didn’t move so we tried approaching from various angles, making quite a bit of noise in the process.  I would have thought we would have put anything to flight but we got to within 10m before disturbing it.  We never saw it move but next heard it calling from some way off.  We were rather downbeat but Domingo seemed unperturbed suggesting we tried another territory.  This one was only a few hundred metres away off a track to the west.  Another bird was soon responding but it was in an even thicker patch.  No messing about this time and with a call of ‘Pepe, machete’ we moved in.  I wasn’t at all convinced that this strategy would work but was very pleased to be proved wrong.  A combination of carefully hacking a narrow trail in and Domingo’s superb eyesight enabled him to spot the bird before we entered its comfort zone and we all got good views, although by the time I thought to try for photographs it moved on.  We continued down the track which was through mainly secondary forest seeing some Black-spotted Bare-eyes well in one of the better forest patches and trying in several places for Black-banded Crake.  We got responses from lose birds twice without seeing them.  On the walk back we were more fortunate with the impressive Rufous-headed Woodpecker.  It had dried out as the day progressed but remained heavily overcast and the light was failing fast by the time we got back to the dugout.  We spotlighted Common Potoo and Ringed Kingfisher on our return to the lodge.  After a good meal we enquired about Jon, Rod and I staying at Sani for an extra day or two as we had a small contingency we thought we might need for Crescent-faced Antpitta (Marc was returning a day before we were scheduled to and had a flight to Quito booked).  When we had seen Yanyls in Quito to pay the balance she had indicated that it would be OK to stay an extra day as Sani was not fully booked at this time and we agreed on a daily rate if we wanted to.  Sani was so good we now did but needed to make sure connections would work with our international flights.  Sani’s skype connection seemed better than email (Jon and I had tried unsuccessfully to email home) and we were told they would have information about flights by the following evening. 

Common Potoo in very poor light but at least Jon's camera was working properly again
Rod on step 198
Marc and Jon being shown something by an almost hidden Domingo
view from the canopy tower

Masked Crimson and Turquiose Tanagers
looking down

Blue-throated Piping-Guan
the canopy tower's best resident
Great Potoo

Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher
a canopy species 

the canopy tower was very impressively constructed

Domingo at the helm as we headed for Sani Lodge

tame Grey-winged Trumpeter, if I ever wanted a pet it would be this
a fantastic character
although it wasn't that interested in the Tropical Screech-Owls Domingo was showing Marc
they were a bit obscured ...
.. unlike someone
back in the field, Rufous-headed Woodpecker
Rio Napo
5 February.  We were up at 05:00 for breakfast and left in the dugout in the dark at 05:30 with Phil and his guide Carlos.  We arrived at the boardwalk 15 minutes later and just about managed the walk it without a torch, although it was useful to have it to hand.  We took a motorboat across the Rio Napo and upstream to Yasuni NP where we spent a long morning, initially with Phil and Carlos, on and off very muddy trails and crossing small rivers on fallen logs.  Our main quarry was Ochre-striped Antpitta but we got distracted by other species and Phil and Carlos went on ahead.  We heard an antpitta below us in a valley.  ‘Pepe, machete’ and we went down for it but despite spending a couple of hours during which time we got very close we were unsuccessful.  We did get good views of a Brown-rumped Foliage-Gleaner, a new bird for Domingo although he knew they had been seen in the area.  I was more impressed with Brown Nunlet, Brownish Twistwing, Black-tailed Leaftosser and brilliant views of a superb Collared Puffbird although frustratingly the camera was reluctant to focus on it.   We returned to the boat for an excellent packed lunch.  Phil had beaten us back, having seen the antpitta well with Carlos.  We all tried a site for Ecuadorian Cacique without success and called in at one of the river islands on the way back while Phil and Carlos headed back.  The river island was disappointing with Castelneau’s Antshrike our best sighting.  It was quite hot day with few showers which probably didn’t help.  We got back to the lodge as it was getting dark seeing Capped Heron and me missing a Least Bittern on the lagoon.  We had another good meal and visited the office.  Flight times from Coca to Quito were not ideal.  I had to check-in for my Iberia flight to Madrid at 18:00 on 10th, Jon and Rod at 18:30.  The LAN Coca to Quito flight was due in at 18:10 which would be fine if it was on time as the terminal was the same and baggage shouldn’t take long to collect.  However Phil Rostron’s LAN flight to Coca had been an hour late and a repeat would be pushing things for me.  I’m less risk adverse than Jon and didn’t feel I could risk it – even if it was on time (which was likely) I’d be worrying and not enjoy the extra day.  Jon and Rod also had a get-out in that their flight was only to Lima where they had most of the day before flying home so if they missed it they could probably get another.  I decided to go for an earlier, mid-day, flight but was told that would require a special boat from Sani which would cost me $300!  After several skype conversations with Yanyls in Quito and Miguel (their agent in Coca) I decided to have one extra day at Sani and travel back to Quito on an overnight bus (not only heaper $10 v $100 but also saved me having to find a hotel. Jon and Rod went for two extra nights at Sani and a slightly more risky connection.

disembarking at the Yasuni trailhead
Brown Nunbird through  a damp lens
lens cleaned but it was now more obscured
Collared Puffbird.  It had been one of my most wanted birds for the trip and although we had good views on our first day at Sani I had been disappointed not to get any images.
this bird was quite frustrating as for most shots the autofocus decided to go for the background whenever I took an image
fortunately that didn't happen every time
it was every bit as good as I had hoped
Yellow-browed Antbird

heading off-trail
Scaly-breasted Woodpecker
Greater Yellowlegs on a river island
Pied Plover

6 February.  Repeating yesterday’s itinerary we had breakfast at 05:00 and dugout at 05:30 to the boardwalk.  We arrived at the Rio Napo just as it was light but couldn’t start the motorboat we had used previously.  Domingo had no more success than Pepe and after almost half an hour we transferred to their bigger ($300!) boat.  We headed straight up and across river to the Yasuni National Park trails we had been on yesterday.  We took an arduous short cut over a ridge (Domingo appearing to relish using the machete) to get to the area where we had heard the Ochre-striped Antpitta.  One was again vocalising in the distance and we headed off-trail towards it with a bit of machete work on the way.  We got quite close but it seemed to be keeping its distance so Domingo and Pepe split up, after Pepe was instructed what to look for (he was not a bird guide).   After an anxious 20 minutes or so it seemed to settle in an area where Pepe could see it.  He beckoned us over and I had a brief view before it moved on again.  This time Domingo saw where it went and we all got excellent views of it calling back at him.  Now we had seen the main bird I thought it an appropriate time to mention a few other birds to Domingo that I hoped to see.  He was quite positive although I did get a sort of ‘wish you’d told me before’ response.  We returned to the trail and continued along it to a flatter ridge where he played a recording of Banded Antbird.  Immediately one flew in and landed in front of us in full view, to no sooner fly off again.  A stunning bird that we eventually got prolonged views of.  At the same place an Ash-throated Gnateater started calling and eventually gave good views.  For a while I didn’t know where to look as both species were on my wanted list.  Thrush-like Antpitta and we headed off-trail for a calling bird but it failed to perform, still a very good morning.  We then met Phil who by his expression had not been successful on his quest with Carlos to see Nocturnal Curassow despite a 03:00 start and 90 minute walk on muddy trails and across slippery logs in the dark.  They had heard one calling before dawn but only a local village boy who had accompanied them glimpsed it.  It was a hot dry day but the trails were still very muddy and the difficult terrain made it hard work even when not off-trail.  We had a late lunch then returned to the Ecuadorian Cacique site further along the river.  We again drew a blank but Marc and I saw a smart White-eared Jacamar.  It was Marc’s last full day and so we decided to finish at the canopy tower, getting motorboat back down the Rio Napo, walking the boardwalk and being paddled by dugout.  We arrived there at 16:00 seeing Purple-throated Fruitcrow on the way.  The canopy tower was good but disappointing compared to our first visit with light from the lowering sun making viewing to the west difficult.  The Great Potoo looked as if it hadn’t moved while Domingo pointed out a very distant Slate-coloured Hawk, the closest we would get to a Harpy Eagle.  We were back at Sani Lodge in daylight, just in time for my daily fix of the tame Grey-winged Trumpeter.

Ochre-striped Antpitta, much more colourful than depicted in the fieldbook
brilliant feet

and a bill that looked as if it had been rooting around in the ground
back on the river and not all barges carried lorries
Spotted Sandpiper

White-eared Jacamar
we weren't always the only tourists in Challuayacu creek
Wattled Jacana
Black-capped Donacobius
on the canopy tower's tree trunk
Domingo scoping a distant Slate-coloured Hawk from the canopy tower 
Paradise Tanager
my favourite canopy tower view

The Great Potoo was in the same place

although it did move its head occasionally 

returning to the lodge

7 February.  We were up at 04:00, or should have been, to go and listen for Zigzag Heron.  Both Rod and I slept through our alarms and were woken by Marc and Jon, joining them in under 10 minutes.  In my case this included 4 minutes unsuccessfully looking for my hearing aid which I had left on a bookcase type affair I kept my stuff in/on.  Zombie like I followed Domingo and the others along and off a trail behind the lodge for about 20 minutes.  Domingo heard a distant Zigzag Heron although I wasn’t sure that I could.  It was in an area that we could not get any closer too.  We returned and I had time for a more thorough search for my hearing aid before breakfast.  I found it on the floor behind the bookcase with the earbud surround missing.  Rod and I had been occasionally visited by a small big-eared mouse and I could only think that it had decided to eat part of my hearing aid, perhaps garnished with ear-wax!  The previous night I had ‘lost’ a rubber and now wondered if it had gone the same way.  The mouse also explained an unpleasant smell in my corner of the room that I had wondered if it was my damp clothes (despite my making use of the free laundry service offered by Sani).  After breakfast, at the usual 05:00, Jon, Rod and I said a sad farewell to Marc who was leaving that morning and had chosen to join the other ‘departures’ in visiting a parrot clay-lick and the village community centre.  He had been an excellent and very level-headed travelling companion who had kept us on a level footing.  Domingo took Jon, Rod and me to a new cacique site but it still involved the usual dugout, boardwalk, motorboat to get there.  It was then a 15 minute walk some along a submerged boardwalk that had been below wellington level a couple of days before.  We met Phil and Domingo there, Phil with a big smile on his face - they had gone back for the Nocturnal Curassow and had had good views of it by torchlight.  After a while we spread out a bit looking for the cacique and a little way away from the others Domingo heard one calling which Jon and I saw briefly.  It dropped out of sight and did not reappear in a couple of hours.  Not the most inspiring bird, and at the range we saw it probably only identifiable on call.  I was much more impressed with the Silvered Antbird we had seen on the way there.  We returned to the Rio Napo and headed up stream to a different river island.  This was much more successful although the time of day might have helped.  We saw many of the river island specialities in fairly quick succession - Parker’s and White-bellied Spinetails, Black & White Antbird and Olive-spotted Hummingbird were all new although I only got poor views of River Tyrannulet and only Domingo saw Lesser Hornero.   By now it was very hot and we had lunch on the island.  In the afternoon we returned to the start of the boardwalk and took the track to where we had heard Black-banded Crakes.  We flushed an Undulated Tinamou on the way and after two failed attempts to see responsive crakes a third pair were more obliging crossing an opening on the forest edge several times.  We returned to the lodge, and the tame trumpeter, as the light was fading.  A dry day although the trails remained very muddy.
Rio Napo river island

back to the lodge for lunch
my new best friend came to visit
but was more interested in pecking my (relatively clean) socks than the offered biscuit
could I sneak it into my bag when we left?
returning to the lodge again after successfully seeing Black-banded Crake

8 February.  My last full day at Sani.  Breakfast at 05:00 (it felt strange without Marc) and dugout at 05:30 to canopy tower.  Spotlighting on the lagoon before it got light revealed the eyes of a Ladder-tailed Nightjar but it flew as we approached and we saw little else of it.  We were at canopy tower from 06:20-08:10 seeing the Great Potoo, Slender-billed Kite, Bat Falcon, Pied Puffbird and Chestnut-fronted Macaw.  The Great Potoo had a surprise.  Returning to the dugout we were paddled across to a long trail opposite where we spent the rest of the morning.  It was very hot and tiring as we covered a lot of ground but some excellent birds made it very worthwhile.  First we had good views of Dot-winged Antwren then a Thrush-like Antpitta started calling some way off-trail.  This led to the inevitable ‘Pepe machete’ and we homed in on it.  Despite a certain amount of crashing around on our part it stayed faithful to a small area where I glimpsed it crossing a gap but my view was more frustrating than useful.  Domingo told us to stay put while he very slowly edged forward and after five minutes of intense peering he beckoned us over to where he could see it through a small gap.  Amazing skill on his part.  We all had good views but it moved out of sight before any of us could go back for seconds.  A short time later we came across a pair of Chestnut-belted Gnateaters that responded to Domingo’s calls.  They were brilliant too.  We returned to the lodge for lunch and a 90 minutes break.  It was still very hot and sunny so I put my camera out hoping to dry it out with no appreciable improvement.  I saw the roosting Tropical Screech-Owls in the same place Domingo had showed us on the first day but they were just as obscured.  I also wandered into the nearby forest but saw very little, the one downside of Sani Lodge was that the better accessible habitat was always a dugout away whereas at the campsite it was on the doorstep.  I returned to our cabin and was visited by the tame trumpeter although it didn’t seem overly impressed with a bit of dry biscuit I offered to share with it.  We departed for the boardwalk at 15:00 taking a trail from its start that headed NE towards the Rio Napo.  We had reached its furthest point without seeing anything when the weather broke and we returned at 16:30 in heavy rain.  Any remaining thoughts we might have had about trying for Phil’s Nocturnal Curassow in the morning were scuppered, not that any of us were overly keen given the effort involved and chance of success.  Domingo had been very reluctant when we floated the idea with him too.  It rained all evening and all night.  As I would be leaving Jon and Rod tomorrow I returned Jon’s camera with grateful thanks.

early morning from the canopy tower

what big eyes the Great Potoo had
although it was soon looking sleepy

distant Crimson-crested Woodpecker

Gilded Barbet

juvenile or female Spangled Cotingas

Laughing Falcon
The Great Potoo was looking very contented but it wasn't just being in the sunshine
eyes closed but eye open ...
... it was now obvious why it had been faithful to the same spot
absolutely brilliant
Night Monkeys

Hoatzin on Challuayacu Lake

slightly less obscured Tropical Screech-Owls back at the lodge
our welcoming committee, Sani Lodge

9 February.  It rained all night and although we got up for breakfast at usual at 05:00 we waited for an hour for the rain to ease before setting off.  Domingo and Pepe paddled us to the boardwalk and we then motored to the better river island for a 45 minutes blitz which was generally successful seeing River Tyrannulet and Riverside Tyrant which we had missed previously.  We then continued to the Yasuni trails looking for antwrens.  We were walking along a ridge when Domingo heard a Grey-winged Trumpeter calling from quite close.  He imitated it and it boldly strutted in expecting to see off a rival.  Amazing.  We had superb views of it calling back to Domingo, almost in full view, but how I regretted not having kept Jon’s camera to the bitter end especially as he had not brought it out.  The trumpeter then quickly walked off shaking its wings and grunting in irritation!  We continued on without finding any flocks or antswarms (one of the few disappointments with our time at Sani) before returning the way we had come.  The trumpeter was in the same area as we heard it calling as we approached. It ran in angrily at Domingo’s imitation before realising it was us again and strutting off.  An unbelievable performance that rates with my all-time best.  It was then time for me to be dropped at the Community Centre where I said a fond good-bye to Domingo and Pepe, Domingo being the best bird guide I’ve come across.  Jon and Rod had another day and I hoped to see them at Quito airport the next evening.  Others leaving Sani were given a traditional lunch at the Community Centre but I opted to wander around the clearing instead.  My trip changed from amazing to tedium in a short period of time.  We were loaded into a fast boat and left at 12:50 arriving upstream at Coca at 15:00.  My wellingtons went no further as on changing them I realised that both soles had cracked – no wonder I had got wet feet that morning.  Everyone was taken to the airport in a bus with all our luggage following in a pickup taxi.  The others were flying back to Quito but I’d opted to save money by getting the overnight bus and was dropped at the bus station at 15:30.  I heard their plane depart on time at 17:30 and wondered if my caution in leaving a day early had really been necessary.  It was a comfortable bus station, partly air conditioned and not particularly busy.  My bus left at 20:30 by which time I’d finished my book and a packet of biscuits.  The bus didn’t get out of the bus station before being pulled over and we all had to get off and line-up and half the passengers were questioned and/or searched.  It was a long uncomfortable journey with speed-bumps and hairpin bends making it hard to sleep.  Much nicer in daylight I’m sure.

10 February.  The bus arrived at Quito’s northern bus terminal at 03:30.  It was pretty much deserted but most of the other passengers soon disappeared.  There was no obvious sign of where buses left for the airport so I waited until it got light starting on Jon’s book.  When it was light I couldn’t see a stand for the airport bus and no one I asked knew where it was so I got a taxi for $20.  I arrived at the airport at 07:00, only 11 hours before check in.  There was no left luggage, the information office told me that they were not allowed to keep an eye on my bag and a couple of tours of the airport failed to locate anywhere I felt that I could safely dump it.  As my priority now was to get home with my stuff I didn’t feel that walking out of the airport to go birding in the scrubby hillsides nearby was really an option, especially as it soon got quite hot.  Jon’s book lasted me all day as did a fruit malt loaf.  I checked in at 18:00 and then went down to arrivals to meet Jon and Rod.  Their flight was on time.  I was sure that it would be but would have worried all day about missing my flight home if I’d chanced it.  They had seen 3 or 4 new birds for me but none that really hurt.  They checked in for their flight to Lima and I noted that Iberia were still checking in for my flight.  We said farewell.  It had been a great trip.  My flight was barely half full and I had the centre block of 4 seats to myself so after having a meal I was able to lie down and sleep solidly for 4-5 hours.

11 February.  We arrived in Madrid on time where the 90 minutes connection time was ideal.  We arrived at Heathrow on time, there was no queue at immigration and somehow my bag was on the carousel when I reached it.  A tube was in the station and I was at Victoria within 90 minutes of touching down.  I had a two hour wait to use my cheap ticket on a train home and Megan was waiting at the station when I arrived at 21:00.  It had been a brilliant trip but I was pleased to be home.

Many thanks to Jon Hornbuckle for putting the trip together and having me along, to arc Brew and Rod Martins for excellent companionship and Gabo Bucheli and Domingo for brilliant guiding.  It had been my most enjoyable South American trip to date.