This trip report covers seven days spent at Sacha Lodge in August 2005. We booked through Gap as we didn't want to do only birding while in Ecuador but I am only covering the Sacha Lodge portion here. I contacted the lodge well in advance and asked for the services of Oscar Tepuy, who is by far the best guide in the area. His knowledge of the birds and calls and where to find them are second to none.
The lodge itself is fantastic. Our room was fabulous with loads of space, a desk, a deck with a hammock overlooking the Varzea forest, the food was good and plentiful. Plus you are in an amazingly pristine environment loaded with animals, birds and insects.
For reference I took the Field Guide portion of the Birds of Ecuador and didn't use the status and distribution portion. I also packed John V. Moores tapes of the lowland rainforest and his Sounds of La Selva. The lodge emailed me a bird list so I was able to mark where to find the songs on which tape so I could go back and listen as a reference. Those that I was not able to find I looked up on Xeno-canto.org, a great website for South American bird calls.
Travel in Ecuador is fairly eventless. I have been twice and never had any problems. We walked through downtown Quito and ended up in a decidedly non-touristy section of town with only the locals about but never felt in danger and never felt threatened. Did need some oxygen after beeing in the rich air of the jungle.
Friday August 26th
We had some time in the morning in Quito before our noon flight so we decided to hop a taxi and head to the Mitad del Mundo, equator monument, and have a look round. Just on the edge of town we arrived before it opened and our taxi driver told us about the Volcano up the road so we stopped up there for a few minutes. There were hummingbirds everywhere along the slope and I saw Rufous-tailed Hummingbird really close but in the early light I couldn't make out much that was farther down the slope. We stopped back at the monument at 9:00 when it opened and toured the grounds. Several flowering bushes produced Black-tailed Trainbearer, Tyrian Metaltail, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and Sparkling Violet-ear from here we went back to the room to catch our flight to Sacha Lodge.
When we got to the airport for our noon flight and wighted in with all our gear and made the weigh in ok so waited for the plane. It was going to be a military transport as there was some unrest in Coca but this didn't materialize. We eneded up on a little 14 seater and once off the ground the fun began. The turbulence was really rocking the plane around and once above the mountains it really kicked in. The pilot got on the phone to the stewardess and she came on the intercom to tell us we had a problem. I could still see the gear was down but when I asked the guy on the right side of the plane if the gear was down he said "no". I figured out the problem. The pilot nosed over and we headed for the deck. The right hand wheel came down thankfully and we were soon back at the terminal.
The local Sacha Lodge rep came in and got us boarded onto a comercial liner over to Coca about a couple of hours after our original departure time but we were glad not to be flying in the small puddle jumper again. As we passed it going to our other flight the cowling was up and hydrolic fluid was puddled up underneath the strutts.
A short uneventful flight this time has us over vast green jungle and into Coca in no time. We piled into the airport and were met by several Sacha hosts who piled us onto a truck with bench seats and drove us to our gathering point at their offices near the docks. We marked our luggage and walked down to the dock to board our boat to Sacha. I was looking around with my binoculars near the river when one of the guides said "If you want to see some birds, board the boat last, that way you will be at the front." I didn't know this at the time but it was Oscar. We were the last on the boat and as we walked down the steps to the river he pointed out Laughing Gull, Grey-breasted Martin and White-banded Swallow.
For the next two hours we powered up the river. Oscar pointed out loads of birds to us including Olivaceous Cormorant, Cocoi Heron, Snowy Egret, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, Yellow-headed Caracara, Orange-winged Amazon, Tropical Kingbird and a Black-billed Thrush that flew right in front of the boat.
By the time we arrived it was dark and we began a half hour hike through the dark rainforest along a board walk. At the end of the walk we boarded dugout canoes and paddled across the lake where we were met at the docks of Sacha lodge and welcomed in. We got the introduction at the bar and told about the lodge and what to expect and then shown to our rooms. We unpacked and headed back to the dining area for dinner where Oscar met us and told us about birding and that he would be our guide for the next week and what time to meet in the mornings. We ate and then crashed hard after a long day. At about 3:30 in the morning a Common Potto began calling right outside the bathroom. You know your in the jungle then.
Saturday August 27th
As is usual with any birding trip we were up early while it was still dark. A chorus of frogs greeted us and we met Oscar after breakfast at the dining area at 5:30. We boared the dugout canoes and paddled across the lake. Here we met Pancho, Oscars assistant, a fantastic local guide who was learning the ropes from Oscar. He didn't speak much English but was always ready with a smile and he keen eyes found us many birds during the trip.
Halfway across the lake we paddled to the left bank of forest and through a gap into the varzea forest. Thick blackness encased us and all around us the trees leant over the creek. Oscar was using his flashlight and spooked up an Agami Heron and a while later we found an Orange-crowned Manakin on its night roost.
At the end of the creek we pulled up at a little jeti and unloaded and climbed up through the forest. It was gettig light now and birds were beginning to call all around us. A short hike brought us to the canopy tower built arount a giant Ceiba tree.
We climbed up through the canopy until we came out on the platform at the top nestled in the boughs of this great tree. We spent the morning up here watching canopy flocks fly through. Gilded and Lemon Throated Barbets were some of the first to call and a pair of Golden-collared Toucanets called from a tree right across from us. A Dugands Antwren made and appearance with Dwarf-tyrant Manakin,Spangled Cotinga, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Orange-bellied, Thick-billed, Rufous-bellied and White-lored Euphonias were all close by with a myriad of flycatchers including Yellow-browed Tody-flycatcher, Grayish Mourner, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Gray-capped Flycatcher, Crowned Slaty-flycatcher and a Social Flycatcher all made and appearance. Black-faced and Yellow-bellied Dacnics plus other tanagers like Opal-crowned, Palm, Silver-beaked, Masked Crimson and Blue-grey made and appearance. Russet-backed and Crested Oropendolas passed with some regularity as well as Yellow-rumped Caciques the sky was filled with Gray-rumped, Short-tailed and Neotropical Palm Swifts. Raptors passed us all through the morning including Slender-billed Kite, Crane Hawk, Double-toothed Kite and Black and Red-throated Caracara. By 10:30 we had seen over 50 species.
We climbed down and into the the jungle proper. All around us we could hear calls and the chip, chip note of a Straight-billed Hermit at a local flower gave us great views. In the thick jungle we came across loads of antbirds including Plain-winged and Dusky-throated Antshrike, Plain-throated and White-flanked Antwren and Black-faced Antbird. We returned to the boat and paddled back through the varzea to the lodge getting great looks at a Chestnut Woodpecker that alighted a tree right in front of us.
In the afternoon we walked the trails behind the lodge in somewhat dryer forest and found Buff-throated woodcreeper, Black-tailed Trogon, Blue-crowned Mot-mot, White-breasted Wood-wren, Lawrence's Thrush, Marbled Wood-quail and White-throated Toucan.
In the evening we went out on the trails again to look for night species and taped in a Crested Owl but didn't get the best looks.
Sunday August 28th
We headed for the Canopy Walkway this morning leaving while it was still dark. It was even blacker once into the jungle. We slogged along muddy trial with our flashlights and at one point Oscar stopped and peered under some elephant ear leaves and illuminated a roosting Great Tinamou. As the light got better we came out into a depression which made an natural ampitheatre and were brought up short by the calls of a Great Jacamar. It's haunting calls taunted us from afar but we never saw the bird. A Spix's Woodcreeper was close by in a tree for some good looks. We climbed the canopy walkway with it clinking in the morning air which was thick with fog. As we got to the top the walkway seemed to just end in a wall of fog. As the light came up birds began to sing and the fog cleared. We spent several hours just standing or slowly walking along the walkway over the forest enjoying the sites and the birds. Lafresnaye's Piculet, Lineated Woodpecker, Cream-colored Woodpecker, Orange-fronted Plushcrown, White-necked Thrush, Black-capped and Pink-throated Becar, Purple and Green Honeycreeper, Opal-rumped and Flame-crested Tanagers, Many-banded and Ivory-billed Aracaris, plus Channel-billed Toucan were just some of the highlights.
After the sun was up for a while it became quite warm and King and Great-yellow headed Vultures made and apparance before we climbed down. Once in the jungle we birded the dryer forest coming up with Golden-headed Manakin, Squirrel Cuckoo, Green-backed Trogon and Violaceous Trogon, Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper, Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Plain Xenops and Ornate Antwren. We would stop for mixed canopy flocks and enjoy the scenery. Near the end of the trail Oscar stopped and scoped a Lanceolated Monklet which quickly moved deeper into the canopy. As we drew close we found a Wire-tailed Manakin and scoped that for some amazing views. Oscar found the Monklet and we moved off the trail into some thick jungle where we found Brown Nunlet and a rare Rufous-breasted Picutlet plus Ornate Antwren. A furious five minutes gave us some great birds.
Oscar also taped in a Collared Puffbird and we came across a Screaming Piha lek with about 3 birds in it screaming at the top of thier lungs. Amazingly loud up close. This was the day for Bucconidae with Black-fronted and White-fronted Nunbirds being seen from the canopy walk way along with the Monklet, Brown Nunbird and Collard Puffbird we also got a Swallow-wing in the afternoon along the boardwalk through the varzea swamp. This also netted us several flycatchers including Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed, Streaked and Dusky-capped Flycatcher. Also Scarlet-crowned Barbet, Purplish Jacamar, Scale-backed Antbird, Blue-crowned Manakin, Grey-crowned Flatbill and Violaceous Jay. We heard a Point-tailed Palmcreeper but never saw it.
It was dark as we headed back along the board walk and did manage to tape in two Tawny-bellied Screech Owls before we headed back to the lodge.
Monday August 30th.
Another early rise had us hiking along the board walk to the finca to catch a boat across the river. Black-banded Woodcreeper along the trail was our first bird and at the finca we stopped for a rest and saw White-necked Jacobin, Piratic and Verigated Flycatcher. When the boat arrived we loaded up and crossed to the Yasuni National Park. Along the way we got Southern Roughwing Swallow, Greater Ani, Greater Yellow-legs, and 7 Amazonian Umbrellabirds. Once at Yasuni we stopped at the clay lick and watched the parrots come in. White-eyed Parakeets, Blue-headed Parrots, Mealy and Orange-winged Amazon, Dusky-headed Parakeets and Yellow-crowned Amazon were there too. While enjoying the views from the hide a Pale-tailed Barbthroat hovered right in front of me and out in the thick jungle at the edge of the hide we spent some time calling in a Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner which allowed brief views as it passed through a window in some bamboo.
From here we walked a paved path through the jungle to another parrot lookout near a cave and saw the rauchous spectacle of White-eyed and Dusky-headed Parakeets plus Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet and Orange-cheeked Parrots.
We hiked the trails through the jungle here getting Black-throated Trogon, Rusty-belted Tapaculo, Long-tailed, Plain and Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Great-billed Hermit, Red-stained, Crimson-Crested and Scale-breasted Woodpeckers, Rufous-rumed and Olive-backed Foliage-gleaners, Mouse-colored andCinereous Antshrike, Gray Antwren and Blue-backed Manakin. We returned to the lodge in the afternoon and relaxed for a while.
Tuesday August 31st.
We headed back to the canopy walkway this morning hoping for better weather. It was clearer this morning and a Lined Forest-Falcon responded to some play back and flew past us twice. We left it alone and climbed the tower to enjoy the view. With the fog quickly dissapearing we were onto some birds right away with Paradise Tanager, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Goulds Jewelfront, White-browed Purpletuft, Purple and Plum Throated Cotinga, Zimmers Flatbill, Black-tailed Tityra, Hauxwell's Thrush, Masked and Turqoise Tanager. With the heat of the day coming up we headed down into the jungle and with some patience and playback we go great views of a pair of Striated Antthrush and Black-faced Antthrush. We continued to hike through the rich jungle getting Blue-crowned Manakin, Long-billed Woodcreeper, Long-billed Gnatwren, White-flanked Antwren, Southern Nightingale Wren and crippling views of a Tawny-bellied Screech-owl on its day roost near the lodge.
In the afternoon we paddled out onto the lake to look for some birds and found Black-capped Donocobius before paddling into the varzea swamp where we found a White-chinned Jacamar. We also found several primates today with Pygmy Marmoset, Black-mantled Tamarins and several Squirrel Monkeys.
Wednesday Sept 1st.
We got to the boardwalk early this morning and taped in a Zig-Zag Heron which landed close and began calling. We were catching a boat to the Yasuni again today and when we got to the Finca it was crawling with birds. Flycatchers, Flatbills, Elaenia and Saltators were all over the place. Highlights were Yellow-crowned, Small-billed and Mottle-backed Elaenias, Yellow-breasted Flycatcher and Short-crested Flycatcher.
We boarded the boat and headed to the river islands for some Napo river specialities. We got to a large island and climbed a sandbank up into some tall grasses reeds. We hiked about here with no particular trail but found some great birds. Moriche Oriole, Oriole Blackbird, Caqueta Seedeater, Grey-breasted Crake, Black-and-white Antbird, Parkers and Dark-breasted Spinetails, Castelnau's Antshrike, Olive-spotted Hummingbird, Little Woodpecker, Yellow-browed Sparrows and Orange-headed Tanagers.
From here we took the boat across to the Yasuni National Park and spent the rest of the day hiking the trails farther and farther into the jungle. We stopped on the trail for lunch but other wise hiked the trails looking for canopy flocks and ground birds. It was a long slog but we saw some amazing birds including Bi-colored Antbird, Black-bellied Cuckoo, Chestnut-capped Puffbird, Thrush-like Antpitta, Musician Wren, Great and Common Potoo, Long-winged Antwren, Black Antbird and Coraya Wren.
As we were heading out of the park we came across a Yellow-billed Nunbird calling in trees above us and with some neck straining and the scope at its highest elevation we got some scope views of it.
We met Pancho at the boat and sailed back across the river and it started to rain. We arrived at the Finca soaked so stopped there under the thatch roof to dry off for a bit which was fortunate because once the rain stopped the birds came out. All the flycatchers from before were out with Glittering-bellied Emerald and Long-billed Starthroat, Magpie Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Lesser Seed-finch all making an appearance. We'd spent 12 hours birding. What a day.
Thursday Sept 2nd.
Today we paddled across to the board walk while it was still dark. As the light came up we got onto an Amazonian Barred Woodcreeper. While we were trying to attract some early morning birds with owl calls we attracted a Feruginous Pygmy-Owl. We continued along the board walk getting White-shouldered and Silvery Antbirds plus a bevy of Hermits in a palm grove including Reddish, Rufous-breasted, White-bearded and Great-billed Hermits. The raucous calls of Warlbing Antbirds gave us some great views and an opportunity to tape thier calls. Along here we also got Spot-backed Antbird which was a challange as it stayed low in the reeds along the board walk. I was on my belly peering through gaps but finally got a great view. The White-eared Jacamer was much easier to see out in the open. We also had a pair of Cinereous Tinamou next to the board walk and spooked up Undulated Tinamou in the thickets next to the river. In the dry forest behing the finca we got Thrush-like Wren, Orange-backed Troupial and Russet-backed Oropendola.
After lunch I hiked by myself through the jungle behind the lodge and spooked up a White-throated Tinamou which I had heard calling for a while. It crossed the trial in front of me and walked quickly through some low brush and disapeared into the dense jungle.
In the afternoon we paddled back down Orqueda Creek and found Pygmy Antwren and Rufous-tailed Flatbill which was a treat as you don't often find this flatbill. We got to the jetti at the canopy tower and climbed up for the last couple of hours and watched the sun go down while Euphonias, Tanagers and Honeycreepers came to get water from the leaves of the epiphites growning up in the boughs above us. Reluctantly we climbed down and paddled back to the lodge while a big, purple, pink storm brewed above us. Soon it poured down but we were back at the lodge. This was our last night in the jungle for a while.
Friday Sept 3rd
We got the boat back to Coca and said goodbye to Oscar and Pancho. They were both great guides and we saw some amazing birds. The lodge is second to none and I highly recommend it.
Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift
Neotropical Palm Swift
American Pygmy Kingfisher
Amazonian Barred Woodcreeper
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Southern House Wren