Sunday, December 17, 2017

Nada Tapir, Tapir!

Greetings Everyone,
The last stop on our Ecuadorian adventure was Cayambe-Coca National Park, a short 45-minute drive east from Quito. The draw here is Andean Bears and Mountain Tapir. We had made arrangements to meet Armando Castellanos, the president of the Andean Bear Foundation. He has been studying bears and tapir in the Park since 1995 and has been working with the locals to mitigate human-bear conflicts. Our base would be Guango Lodge, about a 30-minute drive from Cayambe-Coca Ecological Reserve. We arrived a day earlier than Armando which gave us the opportunity to see birds around the lodge. The highlights here are the many hummingbirds that frequent the feeders, colorful tanagers and the pair of Torrent Ducks that live in the nearby Papallacta River.

Red-hooded Tanager

Torrent Duck Pair

The following day Armando picked us up after lunch and we drove to Cayambe-Coca National Park to scout for Andean Bears. The vegetation here is very different than that of Maquipucuna Reserve. The main habitat is the grasslands of the páramo, an alpine tundra ecosystem. Here the bears feed mainly on Puya bromeliads and unfortunately have developed a taste for beef. There is one village inside the park, Oyacachi, and the locals graze their cows on the páramo. They are easy pickings for the bears, especially the calves, and part of Armando’s work is to compensate the locals when a bear kills their livestock.

Puya Bromeliad 

The bromeliads form a more interesting part of the story. The bears have adapted to eating these plants in several ways. The first is to consume the entire plant, an example of which Armando showed us.

Fully-eaten Bromeliad

The second is to eat only the top of the plant leaving the base prone to infestation by beetle larvae which the bears later harvest. It’s an interesting adaptation allowing the bears to survive in an environment where there’s not a whole lot to eat.

Partially-eaten Bromeliad

We drove on dirt roads inside the park but did not see any bears. It was getting late and Armando said that they would be making their nests for the night as they are strictly diurnal. Suddenly movement on the right side of the vehicle caught my attention. It was a bear not far from the road! We stopped to get a better view and saw that it was a sow with two young cubs! She raised up on her hind legs to get a better look at us, then ambled off with her two cubs in tow. Marc was able to get some photos but it was getting dark and the bears were quite far. Armando was ecstatic that we had seen our first bears.

Spectacled Bear and Cub

Armando picked us up at 7:00 the following morning and we drove to Termas Papallacta, a resort spa with a private entrance into Cayambe-Coca National Park. Not far from the gate we saw two Brazilian Rabbits or Tapeti next to the road but they scurried off before Marc could get a photo. We climbed higher and entered the park. The weather wasn’t great with clouds obscuring the views but at least it wasn’t raining. We continued on dirt roads stopping occasionally to scan for bears but saw none. 

The Páramo in Cayambe-Coca Reserve

Armando stopped and honked at a man walking along the road with a backpack. He was Melchor Ascanta from the nearby village of Oyacachi and would be our tracker for the remainder of the trip. Armando explained that Melchor used to be a puma hunter and had killed around 60 of these cats but that he now works for Armando tracking and helping to radio-collar Mountain Tapirs. I’m glad that he has had a change of careers. As we were driving to the known home range of a radio-collared tapir, two White-tailed Deer crossed the road. Some sources list this deer as Odocoileus virginianusthe same species we have here in the United States. Other sources classify these deer as the Andean White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus ustus), their own species.

White-tailed Deer

We dropped Melchor off so he could go in search of the Mountain Tapir the old fashioned way, looking for tracks as we didn’t have the radio receiver and antenna with us today. Melchor called on the walkie-talkie that he had located one and we drove to intercept him on the road. I wanted to go find the tapir but Armando said we needed rubber boots to hike off-road and the weather had taken a turn for the worse so we’d have to wait until tomorrow.

Armando and Melchor picked us up at 8:00 the next morning and we returned to the park. An Andean Fox was on the road ahead but to my dismay, he disappeared as we approached. We waited and he returned seemingly looking for a handout. This fox is apparently used to being fed by the rangers at the nearby entrance station. Melchor threw him some bread and he hung out for awhile allowing Marc to get some great photos.

Andean Fox (Culpeo)

We returned to the location where Melchor had found the Mountain Tapir yesterday and prepared to track her. This time we had the radio receiver and antenna to pick up her signal. With this high tech equipment we should have no problems locating her or so I thought. It had started to rain so we put on Gortex pants, jackets, rubber boots and rain ponchos to keep us and our photo equipment dry.

Geared Up

We followed Melchor (or at least tried to) up to the low point on the first ridge. It was tough going on uneven terrain through knee-deep tussock grass and wet marshy areas at an elevation of 13,500-feet! We had to be very careful not to twist an ankle.

Hiking Through the Páramo

Melchor would go ahead to pick up her signal with the receiver and we’d follow when given the ok. At one point we were within 50 meters of her but couldn’t see her in the thick fog. This was frustrating. The story was always the same, “nada tapir” (no tapir in Spanish).

Radio Tracking a Mountain Tapir

We stopped for a break and after lunch, we had lost her signal so Melchor went in one direction to look for fresh tracks and we went in the other direction with the receiver and antenna but it stopped working due to all the rain. Armando radioed Melchor to see what was going on and he had found her sleeping. Perfect! We started off to his location but he radioed back that she had woken up and moved off! This was beyond frustrating, it was downright infuriating! We walked to a nearby ridge and sat while Melchor went below to look for the tapir. She may have headed to a patch of forest nearby to hide. Suddenly we heard a snort and Armando said in an excited whisper, “Tapir!”. At first, I couldn’t see her then spotted her on the next ridge. She was heading down to the river and Melchor’s location. Following her was a young calf with a white-striped coat! It was amazing to see an adult Mountain Tapir but to see a female with a baby was exceptional. Finally, after trudging through the páramo for 5 hours in the pouring rain we had seen not one but two Mountain Tapirs!

Mountain Tapir and Calf (top right)

Back at the car, Armando told us that this tapir is named Pache or Panchita as he affectionately calls her. He has been following her for 7 years and estimates that she is more than 10 years old. This is the third time she has given birth during the timeframe he has been studying her. He thought the calf was 6-7 months old. Radio collaring a Mountain Tapir is no easy task. It takes tracking with dogs to chase the tapir to a lake where it can be darted. Once anesthetized, a tracking collar can be fitted before the animal is woken up. Obviously, it is very stressful for the tapirs and something Armando does not do often. Currently, he has 12 Mountain Tapirs radio-collared for his study.

Mountain Tapir Tracking Route

Mountain Tapir Tracking Team

As we were leaving the park, the weather started to clear and we finally got a glimpse of snowclad Antisana Volcano at nearly 19,000-feet!

Antisana Volcano

It was raining when we got up the following morning and it didn’t look as if the weather was going to improve. We returned to the park with Armando and Melchor one last time in the hopes of seeing Pache and her calf again but they eluded us. It’s probably for the best as we had disturbed them enough. 

Waiting for a Tapir

We decided to drive around and look for bears instead but the visibility was poor. The only mammals we saw were two more White-tailed deer. We returned to Guango Lodge where we said our final goodbyes to Armando and Melchor. We told them the effort it took to locate Pache and her calf made finding her all the more special. We thanked them for all their hard work in studying and protecting the Andean Bears and Mountain Tapir and wished them continued success in the future. To find out how you can help and visit the bears go to:

Back at the lodge, the manager built a fire in the stove so we could dry our wet clothes once again. Marc was determined to get a photo of a Sword-billed Hummingbird that visited the feeders at dusk and his patience paid off. With a bill longer than its body, it cannot perch on the feeder and must hover.

Sword-billed Hummingbird

Our 5-week visit to Ecuador had come to an end. We had an amazing time exploring the Amazon Basin, the cloud forests on the western slopes of the Andes and the páramo along the continental divide. We were fortunate to see around 300 species of birds and nearly 50 species of mammals in this biodiverse country. We look forward to our next visit. There’s still so much to explore!
We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our Route Map:

   Cayambe Coca Mammal List:

 No.  Species Scientific Name  Notes
 1 Brazilian Rabbit (Tapeti) Sylvilagus brasiliensis  Cayambe Coca & Guango Lodge 
 2  Andean White-tailed Deer  Odocoileus ustus  Four in Cayambe Coca
 3 Andean Fox (Culpeo) Lycalopex culpaeus One in Cayambe Coca
 4 Andean Bear Tremarctos ornatus Sow w/2 cubs in Cayambe Coca
 5  Mountain Tapir Tapirus pinchaque Female w/calf in Cayambe Coca

Guango Final Bird List:
  1. Tourmaline Sunangel (Heliangelus exortis)
  2. White-capped Dipper (Cinclus leucocephalus)
  3. Citrine Warbler (Myiothlypis luteoviridis)
  4. Spectacled Whitestart (Myioborus melanocephalus)
  5. White-banded Tyranulet (Mecocerculus stictopterus)
  6. Blackburnian Warbler (Setophaga fusca)
  7. Grey-breasted Wood-Wren (Henicorhina leucophrys)
  8. Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant (Ochthoeca cinnamomeiventris)
  9. Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossa cyanea)
  10. Black-Crested Warbler (Myiothlypis nigrocristata)
  11. Turquoise Jay (Cyanolyca turcosa)
  12. Torrent Duck (Merganetta armata)
  13. Great Thrush (Turdus fuscater)
  14. Hooded Mountain-Tanager (Buthraupis montana)
  15. Red-hooded Tanager (Piranga rubriceps)
  16. Mountain Wren (Troglodytes solstitialis)
  17. Pearled Treerunner (Margarornis squamiger)
  18. Chestnut-breasted Coronet (Boissonneaua matthewsii)
  19. White-bellied Woodstar (Chaetocercus mulsant)
  20. Collared Inca (Coeligena torquata)
  21. Buff-tailed Coronet (Boissonneaua flavescens)
  22. Glowing Puffleg (Eriocnemis vestita)
  23. Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)
  24. Long-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus kingii)
  25. Purple-backed Thornbill (Ramphomicron microrhynchum)
Cayambe Coca Final Bird List:
  1. Variable Hawk (Geranoaetus polyosoma)
  2. Carunculated Caracara (Phalcoboenus carunculatus)
  3. Andean Teal (Anas andium)
  4. Páramo Pipet (Anthus bogotensis)
  5. Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Return to the Amazon, Part II

Greetings Everyone,
On November 24, we made the long transfer from Sani Lodge to Shiripuno Lodge deep in the heart of Yasuni National Park. Our journey began with a 3-hour boat ride up the Napo River to the town of Coca. From here we were driven by a taxi to a ranger checkpoint on the Shiripuno River. We met Randy, our guide for the duration of our stay at Shiripuno. The first order of business was to attend a briefing about the park and we were ushered into a conference room where there was a large map of the Reserve.

Map of Yasuni Biosphere Reserve

The entire Yasuni Biosphere Reserve region is the ancestral territory of the Waorani People, extending from the Napo River on the north and west, down to the Curaray River in the south and eastward into Peru. The Waorani were hesitant to enter the modern world and when 5 missionaries first tried to contact them in 1956, they were killed. In 1959 a missionary named Rachel Saint (yes, that was really her name) gained access to a Waorani (also spelled Huaorani) settlement. She had been taught the Waorani language by Dayuma, a Waorani woman who had left her people after a dispute and was sheltered by missionaries.

I noticed large hash-marked areas on the map and asked Randy what they were. He said they were areas set aside for two uncontacted tribes the Taromenane and the Tagaeri living in the Reserve. It’s estimated there are 150-300 Taromenane still maintaining a nomadic lifestyle in the rainforest and maybe only 20-30 surviving Tagaeri. It’s hard to imagine that there are still people living on this planet in voluntary isolation with no contact with the outside World. Imagine living in the rainforest with no access to modern medical care, schools, shopping malls, the internet or cellphones. I noticed that Shiripuno Lodge was on the edge of their territory and was intrigued. Randy said that you wouldn’t want to meet them in the rainforest. They don’t take kindly to strangers and have been known to kill outsiders with spears.

I couldn’t wait to enter the Reserve to see what natural wonders waited for us and to get some semblance of what it’s like to live deep in the rainforest. We boarded our motorized canoe for the 4-hour trip downriver to reach the Shiripuno Lodge. Randy said that recent rain had caused the river to rise over 4 meters so the canoe journey may take less time. We dropped a Waorani woman and her son off at a village about 30 minutes downriver and continued on our way.

Our Canoe on the Shiripuno River

We arrived at the lodge around 5:00 and were formally introduced to our crew: Bolivar our cook, Patricio our boat driver and Leo who cleans the rooms. We were the only guests staying at the lodge. Our room was very basic with just a double bed under a mosquito net, a twin bed and a wooden table in between. We did have a bathroom with a flush toilet, sink, and shower. There was no electricity but solar lanterns were provided. Compared to how the Taromenane and the Tagaeri were living, this was pure luxury. We would be very comfortable in our rainforest home. 

Marc in our Room

The following morning we went to explore an oxbow lake that was now accessible due to the high level of the river. White-bellied Spider Monkeys had been spotted around the lagoon recently and this was the last primate species we hadn’t seen. On the way, many macaws, Blue-and-Yellow, Red-bellied, and Chestnut-fronted flew overhead with loud squawks. A pair of Blue-and-yellow Macaws had just emerged from their nest cavity in a broken off Moriche Palm Tree.

Blue-and-yellow Macaws

To enter the oxbow lake we had to hack our way through a narrow channel, past a protruding log with roosting Proboscis Bats and into the main lagoon. 

Proboscis Bats

We could hear the White-bellied Spider Monkeys in the distance but they were too far to get a good look and a photo. Prehistoric Hoatzins huffed in the low bushes surrounding the lake and flocks of Greater Ani flittered from branch to branch.

Hoatzins Mating

We returned to the lodge to explore some of the adjoining trails. Not far along the path was the track of an Ocelot. These secretive felines are almost impossible to see but it’s nice knowing they are around. We decided to set up our trail cam at the junction of two trails to see if we could capture these elusive cats on video. To see if we were successful check out the following link:

Back at the lodge, we were waiting for lunch when I noticed a lone monkey in a tree by the river. It was a Red Titi Monkey. Randy said they rarely come to the lodge but this individual hung out the entire afternoon affording us great views and closeup photos.

Red Titi Monkey

Later that afternoon we went off to explore upriver. Randy heard what he thought were White-bellied Spider Monkeys. When we went to investigate we found two groups of White-fronted Capuchins, one on either side of the river, squabbling back and forth.

White-fronted Capuchin

The next morning we hiked the Colibri and Bates Trails. I spotted a Saki monkey high up in a tree. It turned out to be a mother with a young baby on her back. A large male was nearby. Randy said these were Napo Sakis (Pithecia napensis) a different species than the ones we saw in the Cuyabeno Reserve further north. This species was originally described as a subspecies of the Monk or Miller’s Saki but it was raised to full species status in 2014. Data is deficient to determine the conservation status of this new species.

Napo Saki

Further up the trail, Randy heard Grey-winged Trumpeters and Marc went ahead to photograph them. To his surprise, a Giant Anteater crossed the trail and disappeared into the forest. Marc saw its back and tail only but I missed it completely. Later that afternoon we set off upriver to the trailhead of the Puyuno Trail which leads through Moriche Palm swamps back to the lodge. We were hoping to get a better look at the White-bellied Spider Monkeys. With all the recent rain, the river had risen and flooded the lower reaches of the trail. Randy got out to scout and located the trail. It was difficult to follow at this point and Randy kept losing the trail and had to go ahead to find it again. I must admit I was uneasy about continuing. It was getting late and at this pace, we’d reach the lodge after dark. Marc had his GPS which showed that we were very close to the trails behind the lodge so we continued.  Finally, we reached the main trail after crossing a swamp and I could relax some.

Marc crossing the Swamp

We glimpsed a Saki Monkey and Woolly Monkeys but didn’t have time to linger as it was getting dark. We pulled out our lights and continued, flushing Great Tinamous off the trail startling us at every encounter. We reached the trails behind the lodge and I saw a light ahead. The staff was already looking for us and when they saw our lights they turned back. We arrived back at the lodge well after dark at 6:40. The experience gave me a better appreciation for the Taromenane and the Tagaeri who live in the rainforest without headlamps, GPS’ and trail signs.

After dinner, we took the boat to spotlight along the river. We picked up the eyeshine of a Spotted Paca hiding under a log. It was frozen in place and did not move even when approached closely. I could see in my binoculars that it was wounded. 

Injured Spotted Paca

When Randy later inspected the photo he said that the wounds looked like they had recently been inflicted by a jaguar. There was no blood because the paca was wet and had probably jumped into the river to escape. It remained frozen under the log unwilling to return to the rainforest where the jaguar may be waiting. 

We also saw two Smooth-fronted Caimans, the second-smallest species of the family Alligatoridae, along the waters’ edge. 

Smooth-fronted Caiman

The next day we set off to hike the entire Colibri Trail in the hopes of finding the White-bellied Spidered Monkeys. Our path was blocked by an "X" made from vines. Randy told us earlier that the   Taromenane and the Tagaeri put "X's" across a trail when they don't want outsiders to enter. He laughed stating that my imagination was running away from me. This "X" was naturally made, not the work of the Taromenane or the Tagaeri.

Enter at Your Own Risk

We didn’t locate White-bellied Spidered Monkeys but encountered a large troop of Silvery or Poepiggi’s Woolly Monkeys who entertained us with their antics. Two young males wrestled and when another young male started throwing large sticks down on us, it was time to leave. 

Silvery Woolly Monkeys

For our final night at Shiripuno Lodge we were treated to a glorious sunset over the river and surrounding rainforest.

Sunset over the Shiripuno River

The next day we returned to the park checkpoint with a better understanding of the many challenges that the wildlife and uncontacted tribes face. Yasuni National Park is also home to an estimated 846 million barrels of oil. Despite its protected status, Chinese and Ecuadorian energy companies have been drilling in the park since the 1970’s.  A protection proposal called the Yasuni-ITT Initiative was launched by president Rafael Correa at the U.N. General Assembly in 2007. The Initiative would have kept the park untouched if international donors paid half the expected revenue of oil extraction ($3.6 billion) into a trust fund set up by the United Nations Development Program. It sounded like a fair deal to me considering the biodiversity found in the region and the rainforest’s ability to sequester CO2 to help combat climate change. Sadly, the international community pledged around $330 million, but only deposited $13 million into the trust fund, causing Correa to formally end the initiative in 2013.

For us, Yasuni National Park is an exciting place to visit but for the Tagaeri and Taromenane, it is home. They are totally dependent on the rainforest for their food, medicine, shelter, and clothes. Not to mention that Yasuni National Park is arguably the most biologically diverse spot on Earth. The park is at the center of a small zone where amphibian, bird, mammal, and vascular plant diversity all reach their maximum levels within the Western Hemisphere. Hopefully, the Ecuadorian Government will come to appreciate this treasure trove of life and commit to protecting this special place. The International Community also needs to step up and do their part to protect an area that’s critical to the health of the entire planet. I hope that our visit will encourage the local communities living within the park to look toward ecotourism for income rather than selling out to the oil companies who offer only short-term employment while destroying the rainforest. I’m optimistic that it’s not too late to save one of the last unspoiled rainforests and the uncontacted people who live here. The time is now to put greed and profits aside and protect our dwindling natural world!
We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our Route Map:

Shiripuno Mammal List:

 No.  Species Scientific Name  Notes
 1 White-bellied Spider Monkey  Ateles belzebuth Distant View from Lagoon #1 
 2 Colombian Red Howler  Alouatta seniculus  Heard from the lodge
 3 Red Titi Monkey Callicebus discolor  One @ the lodge & two @ Lagoon #1 
 4 Common Squirrel Monkey Saimiri sciureus Lagoon #1 & @ the lodge
 5 White-fronted Capuchin  Cebus albifrons Along the river & @ Lagoon #1
 6 South American Coati Nasua nasua Two @ Lagoon #2
 7 Giant Anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla  Seen by Marc & Randy on Bates Trail
 8 Spotted Paca Cuniculus paca Two along the river @ night
 9 Proboscis Bat Rhynchonycteris naso Ten roosting on a log in Lagoon #1
 10 Brown Fruit-eating Bat Artibeus concolor Seen from a night boat ride
 11 Napo Saki Pithecia napensis Seen along the river & Bates Trail
 12 Red Brocket Deer Mazama americana Along Puyuno Trail, only Randy saw
 13 Collared Peccary Pecari tajacu Heard & smelled on Puyuno Trail, trail cam 
 14 Black Agouti Dasyprocta fuliginosa, Caught on trail cam

Shiripuno Final Bird List:
  1. Blue-and-Yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna)
  2. Black Caracara (Daptrius ater)
  3. Red-bellied Macaw (Orthopsittaca manilatus)
  4. Many-banded Aracari (Pteroglossus pluricinctus)
  5. Southern Mealy Amazon (Amazona farinosa)
  6. Violaceous Jay (Cyanocorax violaceus
  7. Boat-billed Flycatcher (Megarynchus pitangua)
  8. Crimson-Crested Woodpecker (Campephilus melanoleucos)
  9. Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)
  10. Black-capped Donacobius (Donacobius atricapilla)
  11. Neotropical or Fork-tailed Palm Swift (Tachornis squamata)
  12. Chestnut-fronted Macaw (Ara severus)
  13. Greater Ani (Crotophaga major)
  14. Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin)
  15. Sunbittern (Eurypyga helias)
  16. Roadside Hawk (Rupornis magnirostris)
  17. Scaly-breasted Woodpecker (Celeus grammicu)
  18. Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis)
  19. Lesser Kiskadee (Pitangus lictor)
  20. Yellow-rumped Cacique (Cacicus cela)
  21. Streaked Flycatcher (Myiodynastes maculatus)
  22. Swallow-winged Puffbird (Chelidoptera tenebrosa)
  23. Yellow-tufted Woodpecker (Melanerpes cruentatus)
  24. Ivory-billed Aracari (Pteroglossus azara)
  25. Green-backed Trogon (Trogon viridis)
  26. Cream-colored Woodpecker (Celeus flavus)
  27. Drab Water Tyrant (Ochthornis littorali)
  28. White-collared Swift (Streptoprocne zonaris)
  29. Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus)
  30. Magpie Tanager (Cissopis leverianus)
  31. Blue-throated Piping-Guan (Pipile cumanensis)
  32. Grey-capped Flycatcher (Myiozetetes granadensis)
  33. Masked Crimson Tanager (Ramphocelus nigrogularis)
  34. Spix’s Guan (Penelope jacquacu
  35. White-throated Toucan (Ramphastos tucanus)
  36. Grey-winged Trumpeter (Psophia crepitan)
  37. Great Tinamou (Tinamus major)
  38. Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis)
  39. Golden-headed Manakin (Ceratopipra erythrocephala)
  40. Red-necked Woodpecker (Campephilus rubricollis)
  41. Gould’s Jewelfront (Heliodoxa aurescens)

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Return to the Amazon, Part I

Greetings Everyone,
From the cloud forest near Quito, our journeys have brought us back to the Amazon to visit Yasuni National Park, claimed to be the most biologically diverse place on the planet! Our first destination was Sani Lodge along the mighty Napo River on the northern border of the park. Sani Lodge is owned and operated by members of the Sani community with profits reinvested to improve the life of the local people. Sani Lodge is dedicated to eco-tourism, environmental conservation and community projects which have given the local Sani people a sense of pride for their forest and culture.

Location of Sani Lodge

We settled into our cabin and enjoyed a glorious sunset over Chawlluacocha Lake before dinner.

Sunset over Chawlluacocha Lake

During our first morning, we visited a 37-meter tower built in an immense kapok (Ceiba pentandra) tree overlooking the primary forest. On the way to the tower, a Rainbow Boa was lying on the trail. At first, I thought it was a tree root but it slithered off at our approach.

Rainbow Boa

We reached the base of the tower and climbed metal stairs to a large deck that had been built into the crown of the tree. 

Canopy Tower

From here we could see for miles over the unbroken expanse of rainforest. Many colorful birds came close to the platform giving us excellent views. 

Yellow-tufted Woodpecker

Paradise Tanager

Mealy Parrots

Two Colombian Red Howler Monkeys were snoozing in the top of a tree not too far away.

Colombian Red Howler Monkeys

After a couple of hours, we returned to the lodge taking a short detour into the creek to check out a Orange-crested Manakin sitting on a nest in a low bush near the water's edge. These birds are rarely seen let alone nesting.

Orange-crested Manakin

After lunch, we visited a hide built to view colorful Wire-tailed Manakins. A few individuals came quite close and Marc was able to get a good photo. 

Wire-tailed Manikan

After dinner, we went on a night walk with Peter, a rainforest photographer/biologist who was staying at the lodge. He pointed out many salamanders, frogs, insects, and fungus encountered along the trail.

Mushroom-tongued Salamander

Early the next morning we went off to explore Yasuni National Park on the south side of the Napo River. The river is a natural barrier to many primates and certain species are only found south of the Napo River. Our primary target was the Golden-mantled Tamarin. We searched in vain for these monkeys so we decided to try a different location in the park further upriver. We passed the Saladero de Loros, a clay lick along the bank of the Napo which sometimes attracts hundreds of colorful parrots and parakeets but this morning it was empty. We got off at a ranger's station and headed into the forest on a muddy, mosquito-infested trail. As we climbed to the top of a ridge, it got drier and the mosquitoes disappeared. Our guide, Rodrigo, spotted some monkeys high in the trees. Could they be the elusive tarmarins? No, they were Poeppigii or Silvery Woolly Monkeys (Lagothrix poeppigii), a new species for us! This species is found south of the Napo River and is listed as vulnerable by the ICUN. 

Silvery Woolly Monkey

The next morning we returned to the park to look for the Golden-mantled Tamarins. We checked out the clay lick first and once again it was empty. A boat nearby was watching something in the water. It was a pair of Tucuxi or Gray River Dolphins. Not much is known about the Tucuxi but they are considered to be the world’s only exclusively freshwater dolphin.

Gray River Dolphin (Tucuxi)

We returned to the area where we had searched for the tamarins yesterday with Rodrigo and a new guide Jason who could hear the energetic monkeys in the forest. We hacked our way through the dense understory where we finally got a good look at a Golden-mantled Tamarin. Like the Poeppigii Woolly Monkeys we saw yesterday, these tamarins are found only south of the Napo River in Ecuador. They are listed as near threatened due to deforestation. They didn’t stick around long and Marc was lucky to get this photo.

Golden-mantled Tamarin

On our way back to the lodge we stopped at a tree where a family of Pygmy Marmosets was known to reside. Jason spotted one low down in the tree and we got great views and photos of the smallest monkey in the world!

Pygmy Marmoset

We went to retrieve our trail cam that we had set up off a trail just behind the lodge. On our way back, we stopped at a hide that had been constructed to view small mammals. When we arrived, a large rodent called a Black Agouti was tentatively feeding near the hide. We got a good look at this shy animal before it returned to the safety of the forest.

Black Agouti

After lunch, we headed to the dock to feed bananas to the Yellow-spotted River Turtles that live in Challuacocha Lake.

Yellow-spotted River Turtles

Another staff member joined us to feed another lodge resident, a large female Black Caiman named Lucy that lived under the dock. He tied a piece of raw chicken to a rope connected to a long pole and enticed her out of the water so we could see her entire length. With her massive jaws, she chomped onto the chicken and tore it from the rope. Feeding a wild caiman isn’t advisable but it was quite a show.

 Black Caiman Named "Lucy"

We headed back to the Napo River along a boardwalk that’s used to connect the river to the creek which leads to the lodge. Near the start of the boardwalk, Red Titi Monkeys had been observed and we went to see if they were still around. We got lucky and two Red Titis were feeding in a tree next to the boardwalk. They were very shy and scurried off but not before Marc got a photo.

Red Titi Monkey

Another small group of primates, Black-mantled Tamarins, was foraging with them. We were most likely looking at Graell’s Black-mantled Tamarin (Saguinus nigricollis ssp. Graellsi). It’s difficult keeping up with the taxonomy of primates. Some consider Graell’s Black-Mantle Tamarin to be a separate species instead of a subspecies of Saguinus nigricollis while others consider it to be in a new genus Leontocebus.

Black-Mantle Tamarin

Later that afternoon we reviewed the videos taken with our trail cam. To see one of the nocturnal creatures that are active around the lodge while we were sleeping, click on the following link:

After dinner, we went out in search of more nocturnal animals. We entered the creek to spotlight and picked up the eyeshine of an animal that was unfamiliar to us. It appeared to be an opossum but we weren’t sure of the species. When we later consulted a mammal field guide we determined it to be a Brown-eared Woolly Opossum.

Brown-eared Woolly Opossum

The next morning we left Sani Lodge for the transfer to Shiripuno Lodge deep within Yasuni National Park. On the way back to the town of Coca we passed the Saladero de Loros and this time it was full of Mealy Amazon Parrots, Blue-headed Parrots, Yellow-crowned Parrots and Dusky-headed Parakeets. Third time’s a charm!

Parrots and Parakeets at the Clay Lick

Thank you to our guides Jason and Rodrigo for helping us spot the wildlife in this biodiverse region! Thanks also to the staff at Sani Lodge for taking good care of us during our stay. Stay tuned for Part II of our “Return to the Amazon” series.
We hope all is well with everyone.
Peggy and Marc

Our Route Map:

Sani Mammal List:
 No.  Species Scientific Name  Notes
 1 Pygmy Marmoset  Cebuella pygmaea Family of at least two near the start of the boardwalk 
 2 Southern Amazon Red Squirrel  Hadroscirus or Sciurus spadiceus Seen from the boardwalk 
 3 Colombian Red Howler Alouatta seniculus Seen from the tower & near the clay lick
 4 Common Squirrel Monkey Saimiri sciureus Seen along a trail near the tower & in Yasuni NP
 5 Black Agouti  Dasyprocta fuliginosa Seen at the hide behind the lodge
 6 Silvery Woolly Monkey Lagothrix poeppigii Two seen in Yasuni NP
 7 Graell’s Black-mantled Tamarin Saguinus nigricollis ssp. graellsi  Seen along the boardwalk 
 8 Tucuxi  Sotalia fluviatilis Seen in the Napo River near the clay lick 
 9 Golden-mantled Tamarin Saguinus tripartitus Troop in Yasuni NP near the butterfly farm
 10 White-fronted Capuchin  Cebus albifrons Seen in Yasuni NP
 11 Red Titi Monkey Plecturocebus discolor In a tree along the boardwalk
 12  Proboscis Bat Rhynchonycteris naso  Roosting on a log in Challuacocha Lake
 13 Brown-eared Woolly Opossum  Caluromys lanatus Seen in a tree along the creek at night
 14  Green Acouchi  Myoprocta pratti Seen at the hide behind the lodge
 15 Red Brocket Deer Mazama americana Seen in Yasuni NP
 16 Common Opossum  Didelphis marsupialis Two seen along the creek at night
 17 Nine-banded Armadillo  Dasypus novemcinctus Caught on our trail cam 

Sani Final Bird List:
  1. Horned Screamer (Anhima cornuta)
  2. White-chinned Jacamar (Galbula tombacea)
  3. Russet-backed Oropendola (Psarocolius angustifrons)
  4. Masked Crimson Tanager (Ramphocelus nigrogularis)
  5. White-eared Jacamar (Galbalcyrhynchus leucotis)
  6. Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)
  7. Lesser Kiskadee (Pitangus lictor)
  8. Black-fronted Nunbird (Monasa nigrifrons)
  9. Streaked-headed Woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes souleyetii)
  10. Grey-fronted Dove (Leptotila rufaxilla)
  11. Scarlet-crowned Barbet (Capito aurovirens)
  12. Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch (Oryzoborus angolensis)
  13. Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)
  14. Silver-beaked Tanager (Ramphocelus carbo)
  15. White-winged Swallow (Tachycineta albiventer)
  16. Blue-and-yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna)
  17. Hoatzin (Ophisthocomus hoazin)
  18. Orange-winged Parrot (Amazona amazonica)
  19. Pale-vented Pigeon (Patagioenas cayennensis)
  20. Mealy Amazon Parrot (Amazona farinosa)
  21. Casqued Oropendola (Cacicus osery)
  22. Double-toothed Kite (Harpagus bidentatus)
  23. Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans)
  24. Speckled Chachalaca (Ortalis guttata)
  25. White-banded Swallow (Atticora fasciata)
  26. Swallow-winged Puffbird (Chelidoptera tenebrosa)
  27. Roadside Hawk (Rupornis magnirostris)
  28. Yellow-tufted Woodpecker (Melanerpes cruentatus)
  29. Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher (Todirostrum chrysocrotaphum)
  30. Crimson-crested Woodpecker (Campephilus melanoleucos)
  31. White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi)
  32. Crested Oropendola (Psarocolius decumanus)
  33. Violaceous Jay (Cyanocorax violaceus)
  34. American Pygmy Kingfisher (Chloroceryle aenea)
  35. Greater Ani (Crotophaga major)
  36. Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)
  37. Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus)
  38. Grey-breasted Martin (Progne chalybea)
  39. Boat-billed Heron ( Cochlearius cochlearius)
  40. Great Tinamou (Tinamus major)
  41. Gilded Barbet (Capito auratus)
  42. Orange-bellied Euphonia (Euphonia xanthogaster)
  43. White-lored Euphonia (Euphonia chrysopasta)
  44. Long-billed Woodcreeper (Nasica longirostris)
  45. White-browed Pufftop 
  46. Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper (Dendrexetastes rufigula)
  47. Masked Tanager (Tangara nigrocincta)
  48. Paradise Tanager (Tangara chilensis)
  49. Chestnut-fronted Macaw (Ara severus)
  50. Black-faced Dacnis (Dacnis lineata)
  51. Green-backed Trogon (Trogon viridis)
  52. Scale-breasted Woodpecker (Celeus grammicus)
  53. Many-banded Aracari (Pteroglossus pluricinctus)
  54. Slender-footed Tyranulet (Zimmerius gracilipes)
  55. Green Honeycreeper (Chlorophanes spiza)
  56. Fasciated Antshrike (Cymbilaimus lineatus)
  57. Slate-colored Hawk (Buteogallus schistaceus)
  58. Crested Eagle (Morphnus guianensis)
  59. Citron-bellied Attila (Attila citriniventris)
  60. Black-headed Parrot (Pionites melanocephalus)
  61. Ivory-billed Aracari (Pteroglossus azara)
  62. Plum-throated Cotinga (Cotinga maynana)
  63. Black-tailed Tityra (Tityra cayana)
  64. White-flanked Antwren (Myrmotherula axillaris)
  65. Channel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos vitellinus)
  66. Plain-throated Antwren (Isleria hauxwelli)
  67. Spot-winged Antshrike (Pygiptila stellaris)
  68. Peruvian Warbling Antbird (Hypocnemis peruviana)
  69. Grey-billed Hermit 
  70. Cinereous Antthruush 
  71. Dusky-throated Antshrike (Thamnomanes ardesiacus)
  72. Black-faced Antbird (Myrmoborus myotherinus)
  73. Golden-headed Manakin (Ceratopipra erythrocephala)
  74. Greater Yellow-headed Vulture (Cathartes melambrotus)
  75. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
  76. Ladder-tailed Nightjar (Hydropsalis climacocerca)
  77. Orange-crested Manakin (Heterocercus aurantiivertex)
  78. Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)
  79. Crested Owl (Lophostrix cristata)
  80. White-bearded Manakin (Manacus manacus)
  81. Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
  82. Pied Plover (Vanellus cayanus)
  83. Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chilensis)
  84. Great Egret (Ardea alba)
  85. Red-bellied Macaw (Orthopsittaca manilata)
  86. Black Caracara (Daptrius ater)
  87. Yellow-rumped Cacique (Cacicus cela)
  88. Blue-headed Parrot (Pionus menstruus)
  89. Yellow-crowned Parrot (Amazona ochrocephala)
  90. Chestnut-eared Aracari (Pteroglossus castanotis)
  91. Cinnamon Attila (Attila cinnamomeus)
  92. Sooty Antbird (Myrmeciza fortis)
  93. Tropical Screech Owl (Megascops choliba)
  94. Mouse-colored Antshrike (Thamnophilus murinus)
  95. Opal-rumped Tanager (Tangara velia)
  96. Yellow-green Vireo (Vireo flavoviridis)
  97. Orange-fronted Plushcrown (Metopothrix aurantiaca)
  98. Screaming Piha (Lipaugus vociferans)
  99. Spix’s Guan (Penelope jacquacu)
  100. White-shouldered Antbird (Myrmeciza melanoceps)
  101. Cocha Antshrike (Thamnophilus praecox)
  102. Cocoi Heron (Ardea cocoi)
  103. Tawny-bellied Screech Owl (Megascops watsonii)
  104. Common Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis)
  105. Dusky-headed Parakeet (Aratinga weddellii)