Sani Lodge, Ecuador, August 2004

Published by Mark Gurney (mgobc AT

Participants: Mark Gurney


I spent six days at Sani Lodge (, birding with Domingo, one of the local guides. As I have seen a lot of Ecuador's Amazonian birds before, we concentrated on those species that are not easy to find, especially at the other lodges closer to Coca, but we still saw 222 species, including four Napo endemics. Sani is a relatively new lodge, but it has a lot to offer, with great birding around the lake, very friendly staff, good forest trails, lots of primates, and a canopy tower so you can see treetop birds at eye level. Highlights of my visit were morning flights of hundreds of parrots over the lake, a singing male Cocha Antshrike, good views of Ochre-striped and White-lored Antpittas, an excellent island with many of the riverine specialities, a very obliging Ringed Woodpecker, and a roosting Rufous Potoo (see photos in my gallery

27 August
Arriving in the afternoon, we set off for the canopy tower across the lake from the lodge. As we arrived at the top of the tower we could hear Dugand's Antwren singing in the tree and got great views of it in the branches just above our heads. In the next couple of hours, up till dusk, we had fly-pasts from Blue-and-yellow Macaws and Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Scale-breasted Woodpecker creeping along the branches, Black-bellied Thorntail on its nest, and Moriche Oriole singing from the neighbouring trees. Returning to the cabins as the sun was setting we could see the Hoatzins clambering noisily in the vegetation, and once darkness fell the Common Potoos and Pauraques began singing.

28 August
The following morning we were back up the tower again. Around us were four species of toucan (Ivory-billed and Many-banded Araçaris, White-throated and Channel-billed Toucans), five cotingas (Spangled and Plum-throated Cotingas, Amazonian Umbrellabird, and Purple-throated and Bare-necked Fruitcrows), and six parrots (Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Red-bellied Macaw, Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Cobalt-winged Parakeet, Orange-winged Amazon, and Mealy Amazon): a great start to the day. Walking back through the forest Domingo pointed out a Great Potoo on a branch with its chick, and around the lodge itself a male Blue-crowned Trogon was showing off by the lake. From outside my cabin I watched the stunning Masked Crimson Tanagers and rather more subtle Silver-beaked Tanagers, while Hoatzins and Black-capped Donacobius perched in the giant aroids. After lunch, a canoe trip on the lake got us some nice waterbirds: Sungrebes, a couple of Limpkins, Wattled Jacanas, Least Bittern and Large-billed Tern.

29 August
We set off early for one of the islands in the River Napo, hoping for some of the special birds that are found only in this habitat. Parker's and White-bellied Spinetails, Black-and-white Antbird, Olive-spotted Hummingbird, and Ladder-tailed Nightjar were all found without too much difficulty, and we heard Castelnau's Antshrike. Back on shore, Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher and Chestnut-capped Puffbird were good finds in the riverside scrub, but best bird was the singing White-lored Antpitta watched through a gap in the heliconias. Heading back along a trail through the forest, we found an ant swarm attended by Black-spotted Bare-eye, Spot-winged Antbird, and Plain-winged Antshrike.

Back down towards the river in the afternoon, but this time only halfway along the stream to another forest trail. Before we got there we stopped for a Cinnamon Attila, Plumbeous Antbird, and Black-tailed Trogon, but these soon became forgotten when we rounded a bend and heard a Cocha Antshrike singing from the river bank. Landing the canoe in the mud we carefully stepped out and walked a few metres into the vegetation from where we could see the jet-black male calling from a perch above us. This rare species was one of the unexpected highlights of the trip. It was rediscovered in 1991 after more than fifty years without a sighting by any ornithologist, and it is still known only from the Ecuadorian River Napo. Along the trail we found Grey-headed Tanager and the spectacular Cream-coloured Woodpecker.

30 August
Along the River Napo in a motor boat to visit the parrot licks upstream from the lodge. Yellow-headed and Black Caracaras were loafing on sandbanks along the way, and at the first lick we saw Dusky-headed Parakeet, Blue-headed Parrot, Yellow-crowned Amazon, and Mealy Amazon. The birds at the second lick were still up in the trees and had not yet descended, so we spent some time along one of the forest trails while we waited. This got us Ruddy Quail-Dove, Great Jacamar, White-chested Puffbird, Red-stained Woodpecker, Black-faced and Spot-backed Antbirds, and a superb Grey-winged Trumpeter. Once the parrots descended, we had the spectacle of 600 or so Cobalt-winged Parakeets flying in and out of a small cave entrance where they took the salts. Every now and again they were joined by an Orange-cheeked Parrot, a truly dazzling bird in flight.

Back at the lodge in the afternoon, another visit to the tower proved lucky when a Ringed Woodpecker came in to one of the surrounding trees.

31 August
A morning on the trails looking for antbirds was very successful, with ten species found, including the beautiful Ornate Antwren, and a very obliging Rusty-belted Tapaculo. Other birds in the understory included White-necked Thrush, Wire-tailed Manakin, Ruddy Spinetail, Lanceolated Monklet, and Black-throated Hermit. A White Hawk caused a commotion when it landed in the side of a small clearing, a Lafresnaye's Piculet tapped away at small branches, our second and third Sunbitterns lurked by the streamsides, and Black-headed Parrots made weird whistling noises from the treetops.

In the evening we spotlit Pauraques on their perches around the lake whilst Black Caimans watched us with eyes that shone red in the torch beam.

01 September
Despite being thousands of miles from the Atlantic, the Napo is so wide here that it acts as a barrier to some birds. So this morning we set off across the other side to look for some different species. Three Capped Herons were waiting for us, and once inside the forest we crossed an area of moriche palms near to where Orange-crested Manakins were calling. A Black-faced Antthrush obligingly walked past us while we watching a Scale-backed Antbird, and at a small stream we found an Amazonian Royal-Flycatcher. A Slate-coloured Hawk and a juvenile Ornate Hawk-Eagle were good raptors, but highlight of the day was an Ochre-striped Antpitta seen calling from low down in some vegetation.

We returned to the lodge, passing four species of kingfisher on the way, to the usual Hoatzins, flycatchers, and tanagers around the lake. As a last highlight, Domingo found the Rufous Potoo on its day roost and we got superb views as it rested on a low vine, hoping we couldn't see it.

The full bird list follows.

Species Lists

Bird species seen (restricted-range species in bold):

Least Bittern
Rufescent Tiger-Heron
Cocoi Heron
Great White Egret
Striated Heron
Capped Heron
Black Vulture
Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
Swallow-tailed Kite
Snail Kite
Slender-billed Kite
Double-toothed Kite
Plumbeous Kite
Slate-coloured Hawk
White Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Ornate Hawk-Eagle
Black Caracara
Red-throated Caracara
Yellow-headed Caracara
Bat Falcon
Speckled Chachalaca
Common Piping-Guan
Marbled Wood-Quail
Grey-necked Wood-Rail
Grey-winged Trumpeter
Wattled Jacana
Spotted Sandpiper
Collared Plover
Yellow-billed Tern
Large-billed Tern
Pale-vented Pigeon
Plumbeous Pigeon
Grey-fronted Dove
Ruddy Quail-Dove
Blue-and-yellow Macaw
Chestnut-fronted Macaw
Red-bellied Macaw
Dusky-headed Parakeet
Cobalt-winged Parakeet
Black-headed Parrot
Orange-cheeked Parrot
Blue-headed Parrot
Yellow-crowned Amazon
Orange-winged Amazon
Mealy Amazon
Squirrel Cuckoo
Little Cuckoo
Greater Ani
Smooth-billed Ani
Mottled Owl
Great Potoo
Rufous Potoo
Ladder-tailed Nightjar
Short-tailed Swift
Neotropical Palm-Swift
Great-billed Hermit
White-bearded Hermit
Straight-billed Hermit
Black-throated Hermit
White-necked Jacobin
Black-bellied Thorntail
Olive-spotted Hummingbird
Long-billed Starthroat
Black-tailed Trogon
Amazonian White-tailed Trogon
Collared Trogon
Blue-crowned Trogon
Ringed Kingfisher
Amazon Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Green-and-rufous Kingfisher
American Pygmy Kingfisher
Blue-crowned Motmot
White-eared Jacamar
Great Jacamar
Pied Puffbird
Chestnut-capped Puffbird
White-chested Puffbird
Lanceolated Monklet
Black-fronted Nunbird
White-fronted Nunbird
Swallow-winged Puffbird
Scarlet-crowned Barbet
Gilded Barbet
Many-banded Araçari
Ivory-billed Araçari
Lettered Araçari
Channel-billed Toucan
White-throated Toucan
Lafresnaye's Piculet
Spot-breasted Woodpecker
Scale-breasted Woodpecker
Cream-coloured Woodpecker
Ringed Woodpecker
Yellow-tufted Woodpecker
Little Woodpecker
Red-stained Woodpecker
Crimson-crested Woodpecker
Lesser Hornero
White-bellied Spinetail
Ruddy Spinetail
Parker's Spinetail
Rufous-rumped Foliage-gleaner
Olive-backed Foliage-gleaner
Plain Xenops
Plain-brown Woodcreeper
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper
Olivaceous Woodcreeper
Amazonian Barred-Woodcreeper
Straight-billed Woodcreeper
Buff-throated Woodcreeper
Red-billed Scythebill
Cocha Antshrike
Plain-winged Antshrike
Dusky-throated Antshrike
Cinereous Antshrike
Plain-throated Antwren
Ornate Antwren
White-flanked Antwren
Grey Antwren
Dugand's Antwren
Grey Antbird
Black-faced Antbird
Warbling Antbird
Spot-backed Antbird
Scale-backed Antbird
Black-and-white Antbird
Spot-winged Antbird
Silvered Antbird
Plumbeous Antbird
Black-spotted Bare-eye
Black-faced Antthrush
Ochre-striped Antpitta
White-lored Antpitta
Rusty-belted Tapaculo
Slender-footed Tyrannulet
Mottle-backed Elaenia
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher
Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher
Olive-faced Flatbill
Amazonian Royal-Flycatcher
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher
Drab Water-Tyrant
Cinnamon Attila
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Short-crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Lesser Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Grey-capped Flycatcher
Streaked Flycatcher
Crowned Slaty Flycatcher
Sulphury Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
White-winged Becard
Pink-throated Becard
Black-tailed Tityra
White-browed Purpletuft
Screaming Piha
Plum-throated Cotinga
Spangled Cotinga
Bare-necked Fruitcrow
Purple-throated Fruitcrow
Amazonian Umbrellabird
Golden-headed Manakin
Wire-tailed Manakin
Blue-crowned Manakin
Orange-crested Manakin
Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin
Violaceous Jay
Black-billed Thrush
White-necked Thrush
Brown-chested Martin
Grey-breasted Martin
White-winged Swallow
White-banded Swallow
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-capped Donacobius
Thrush-like Wren
House Wren
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Purple Honeycreeper
Black-faced Dacnis
Yellow-bellied Dacnis
Orange-headed Tanager
Thick-billed Euphonia
Orange-bellied Euphonia
Rufous-bellied Euphonia
White-lored Euphonia
Turquoise Tanager
Yellow-bellied Tanager
Blue-grey Tanager
Palm Tanager
Silver-beaked Tanager
Masked Crimson Tanager
Grey-headed Tanager
Flame-crested Tanager
Magpie Tanager
Buff-throated Saltator
Greyish Saltator
Red-capped Cardinal
Caquetá Seedeater
Chestnut-bellied Seedeater
Yellow-rumped Cacique
Casqued Oropendola
Crested Oropendola
Russet-backed Oropendola
Shiny Cowbird
Giant Cowbird
Moriche Oriole
Orange-backed Troupial
Oriole Blackbird

Heard only:

Undulated Tinamou
Black Hawk-Eagle
Spix's Guan
Ruddy Pigeon
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
Common Potoo
Long-billed Woodcreeper
Thrush-like Antpitta
Bright-rumped Attila
Southern Nightingale-Wren

Mammals seen:

Black-mantled Tamarin
Dusky Titi Monkey
Southern Two-toed Sloth
Night Monkey
Squirrel Monkey
White-throated Capuchin
Red Howler Monkey
Monk Saki Monkey