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Ecuador, South America
December 2007

    Itinerary:
    Quito
    Pañacocha
    Jatuncocha, Parque Nacional Yasuní
    Cocaya
    Lagartococha

Synopsis

December 17th
Rio Napo
    The next morning we woke to the hard pounding rain against our tents.  Tor and I stayed dry, but the rest of the crew seemed to have a little river pouring through their tent.  Our plans to get up early in the morning were dashed by the arriving rains.  During a lull in the rain, we packed up most of our gear and left some out hoping it would dry a little (at this point some things were so wet it couldn’t get any wetter).  As we were deciding what to do for the day, César spotted a large group of Giant Otters fishing in the lagoon.  Everyone seemed to forget the soaking rain and rushed over in excitement to observe the otters as they caught and enjoyed the morning’s breakfast.  We observed them for a good 15 minutes before the otters realized we were there.  They retreated back toward the creek they came from.
    Shortly after we loaded up in the canoe and slowly headed out toward the small creek.  We quietly paddled the canoe through the creek trying to get a better look at the otter family.  Every so often we would see a few heads pop up, trying to get a better survey of us – they seemed to have poor eyesight and relied more on scent.  We finally approached the otter den and watched seven adults give us warning snorts and bare their teeth as they excitedly swam around in the cover of the trees growing on the creek side.  Occasional we would hear one of the two young otters with its high-pitched squeal.  Eventually the otters retreated to their den on land.  We were awestruck by this unique encounter. 
    While heading back to camp, we saw another group of otters in the lagoon – they were busy catching breakfast as well.  We packed up our gear and headed back out to the Rio Napo.  We stopped at Rocafuerte again to dry out our gear and enjoy a meal by Emilda, César’s wife.  Since there was tension between Paola and Selulo, also swapped drivers to Selulo’s son, Roberto.
    Our next destination was down the Rio Napo and up the Rio Aguarico.  We motored up the Aguarico, which was the border of Peru and Ecuador, and turned up a smaller river – Cocaya.  After some discussion with the guard station at the mouth of the river (they were demanding permits, which we didn’t know of), they look at our passports and allowed us to enter the river.  There was one point in the river where we had to scrape through the fallen logs.  The river was different from the others that we had been in.  It seemed this part of the rainforest flooded more often; there were fewer large trees and more clumps of palms.
    As it approached dusk, we reached the old community center and tourist lodge that was built by the local tribes to encourage economic growth – but due to bad accounting was eventually abandoned.  Nature finally took over and it eventually turned to ruins – with the roofs collapsing.  César hoped out of the boat and went to check it out.  He returned saying the site was no longer good since no one has stayed there in a long time.  Surprised, Paola looked at the site and said it just needed a little cleaning up (a.k.a. machete work).
    As César cleaned up the site, everyone was attacked by these small biting ants.  They crawled up our legs and bit down – and once they bit down they didn’t seem to let go.  The mosquitoes were equally bad – seeming to be the worse so far in the trip.  As we were setting up camp next to the abandoned, decrepit buildings, Brett tied a string between an old wood pole and a tree to hang up some clothes to dry.  Everyone had their backs turned when we heard a loud thud.  The large wood pole had fall, clipping our tent.  Luckily the only damage as to the rainfly and no one was seriously hurt.  The evening was getting a little creeper by the moment.  As the evening progressed, Tor noticed this tiny ants swarming our tent.  At first they seemed to be going up and over the rainfly, which was very disconcerting.  Then they were swarming under both of our tents in a large swath.  Small insects and spiders seemed desperate to avoid the masses of ants.  Any cricket unfortunate to get caught was quickly overwhelmed by the ants and literally disassembled by the ants.
    While Brock was looking for a stick to do some bug hunting in the evening, he found a small fer-de-lance curled up on a tree twig – it was less than 20 feet from our tents.  Then César seemed really concerned about us going beyond the cleared camp area and refused to do any night hiking in the area.  When someone who often walks barefoot in the rainforest and who has literally grown up in the rainforest is concerned about us in this former lodge area, it starts to set off bells and whistles in our minds.
    As we were trying to comfort ourselves in this possibly cursed area of the rainforest, we heard a loud crash in the distance – a tree falling… Another sign of the cursed area that did not want us there?  The biting ants, the swarm of ants, the falling log on our tent, the falling tree, our native guide highly concerned… are these all signs?
    We turned to the protection of our tents, wanting to just make it through the night.
    Then late in the night, I woke to Tor shouting with his mouth closed (try it and you’ll understand).  It was spooky, but I shook him awake.  From the other tent I heard “What the fuck was that?”  Tor had a bad dream, which he told us about in the morning.
He dreamt about a witch (not the stereotypically green with a pointy hat witch) or spirit who was upset about us being at this place.  In the dream, Tor tried to explain that we were going to leave, but started shouting at her to try to get the point across – that’s when I woke him up.  When Paola relayed this dream to César, this seemed to be the deciding factor that this site was indeed cursed.
    The Quechua term for forest devil is sacha supay - a force that seemed to surround us that night.

Rio Napo
December 18th
    Happy to survive the night in the cursed forest, we packed up our gear in the early morning, César and Roberto collected the fishing net they set up the night before.  When they returned, we loaded up the boat and took a small tour around the lagoons.  A couple of Plumbeous Kites circled above us and an Agami Heron hid in the river brush.  We enjoyed another swim in the river – trying to scrub off the layers of dirt and sweat that had accumulated over the days.
    We headed back to the Aguarico, relieved to leave the cursed forest.  Paola told the guard at the station at the mouth of Cocaya about a family we saw that seemed to be excessively setting up fishing nets.  But the guard didn’t seem to care in the least bit, which was kind of funny considering they gave us a hard time when we were entering the Cocaya.
    An hour up the Aguarico, we stopped at the Ecuadorian guard station for the Lagartococha.  Again we were given a hard time about permits for entering the river, but Paola showed herself to be a great guide again by talking her way through it (the lack of communication about “proper” permits seemed to be a common problem – since no one really knew what was the typical procedures).  When the guards seemed satisfied, they asked for a ride to the Peruvian guard station, which was literally right across the river.  With 6 Ecuadorian guards in the bow of the canoe, we shuttled them over to the other side, where I presume they went to play football (as all the guards seemed to be doing whenever we checked in with them).
    At the mouth of the river, we saw a couple of pink dolphins.  We started our journey up the Lagartococha and were immediately in awe of how black and clear the water was.  The other small rivers we traveled up where generally black or less muddy than the Napo, but they failed in comparison to the Lagartococha.  We watched the Kingfishers, Cardinals, and Swifts dart across as we motored up the small river.  Overhead Parrotlets squawked loudly and a pair of Scarlet Macaws flew over.  Black-fronted Nunbirds were numerous and sat silently in the opening of trees.  I saw a pair of Short-tailed Swifts trying to build a mud nest on an exposed log in the river.  We stopped to watch two troops of Squirrel Monkeys travel through the brush – we got excellent views of them as they clambered from tree to tree along the river’s edge.  The trees around the river gave way to reeds and open lagoons.  Pink Dolphins fed in our wake and a Bat Falcon sat high in a tree quietly surveying down below.  The Black-capped Donacobiuses sat on the reeds watching us pass by and a Sungrebe took refuge in the protective overhanging branches of a tree.  The groups of prehistoric-looking Hoatzins clumsily flew from branch and huffed and called to each other.
    We pulled into a site and set up camp near the river’s edge.  On the other side of the campsite was a shallow lagoon.  The forest in between was relatively dry, but still full of interesting animals.


December 19th
    In the early morning, I watched a few Pink Dolphins swim up the river.  I noticed the river was considerable higher than it was the day before.  Somewhere in the Amazon it had rained and it was backfilling the Lagartococha.  I set up my spotting scope at the edge of the shallow lagoon.   It turned out to be a great place to watch the Festive Amazons, Blue-headed and Orange-cheeked Parrots, Red-bellied Macaws, and so many other parrots land in the treetops.  They would groom each other or just sidle up next to one another.  One particular dead tree they liked to chew on.
    When everyone was ready, we headed out to a trail, which supposedly had bigger trees and provided a view over the Cuyabeno reserve.  The trip up the river was eventful.  We had to get the boat through a couple of patches the thick reed grass.  If the boat wasn’t going fast enough to shoot through the grass, we got stuck – meaning we’d have to push our way out using the paddles or makeshift-forked poles.  Eventually we passed through a wide lagoon with a large flock of Neotropical Cormorants.  There was a lot of Pink Dolphin activity and egrets picked along the grassy bank of one side of the lagoon.  A couple of Southern Lapwings flew around the bank excitedly, perhaps as part of a mating ritual. 
    We continued on and tried to pass through another patch of reeds.  Unfortunately this patch was too thick and we had to back out.  From there we hiked on land, not the original hike planned.  We hiked out to a marker of the Ecuador/Peru border.  At the marker, we got an excellent view of a dolphin in the clear black water. 
    We returned to the boat and motor back down the river.  We stopped at the wide lagoon with the dolphins – we couldn’t resist the opportunity to swim with the dolphins.  As I lazily swam around the lagoon, watching the dolphins in the distance, I was surprised when a couple of dolphins surface within 20 feet of me.  I was thrilled!
    We returned to the campsite to refuel our bodies and relax a bit.  Then we headed back out to hike another part of the forest.  With César in the lead (machete in hand, of course), we hiked through a different type of forest.  With more palms and more undergrowth than the forest we had hiked through in the morning.  As the daylight and any sign of the trail began to fade away, we turned back (after César needed some convincing that it was time to go back – I think he got a little machete happy and carried away).  We motored down the river as the sunset.  We continued past the campsite and did some caimen watching.  A frog, which must have landed in the boat when we past through the reeds, jumped on my arm and startled me since it was dark and I couldn’t see what wet small thing was on my arm.  Motoring along the lagoons we saw the caiman eye shine and got a good look at one of them.  Paola was able to get mother caimen to return her calls, but we couldn’t get a good look at a full size caiman. 


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Pictures

Giant Otters in the distance from our campsite at Jatuncocha, Parque Nacional Yasuní
A family of giant otters catches their morning breakfast
Brock ready for action.
Paddling out to the otter den on the creek
Giant Otters annoyed  at us for being to close to the den.

Click here for a video
An old otter den that was abandoned due to fisherman camping too close.
Relaxing as we head down the Rio Napo to the Aguarico
The Rio Napo and Aguarico is the border between Peru and Ecuador.  There were many military checkpoints along both sides.
Up the Cocaya
For the night, we camped at an abandoned community center and lodge.
Strange things happened that night, including a log falling on our tent and ripping our rainfly.  Luckily no one was hurt.
Find the Fer-de-Lance!
Fer-de-Lance neatly coiled on a tree branch and dead twig.  It was less than 20 feet from our tents.
Fer-de-Lance using its tail as a lure for some unsuspecting next meal - like a frog.

Click here for a video
Lots of a cool fish in the waters
How our delicous meals were prepared.
The morning large catch for lunch.
An anole (Plica sp.) that Brock knocked out of a tree.
A little toad (Dendrophryniscus minutus)
Cocaya in the morning light
Another checkpoint to get through, interesting how most of there signs were decorated with logos of skeletons or iguanas.
The Aguarico
Next Calvin Klein ad?
How we past the time on the boat
Mangos?
Checkpoint to Lagartococha.  After they gave us a hard time, they asked for a ride to the Peruvian guard station across the river (to play football I assume).
Mouth of the Lagartococha
Clear black water of the Lagartococha
Great Yellow-headed Vulture
Bat Falcon watching over the Lagartococha
Anhingas were common along the Lagartococha
Caterpillars with a clear mesage.
Osteocephalus taurinus
Marine Toad, Rhinella marinus
Lagartococha
Hypsiboas geographicus
Shallow lagoon next to our campsite.

Click here to hear birds around the lagoon and our camp.

Rocket Frog, Alobates sp.
White-eyed Parakeets,
Lagartococha
Traveling through the lagoons was quite the adventure, especially with the reeds.

Here is a clip of travel through the reeds.

Here is a clip of getting unstuck from the reeds.

Southern Lapwings,
Lagartococha
Pink dolphin in the distance
Pink dolphin

Click here to see a very brief glance of a pink dolphin in action.

Here is a second video. In both videos, don't blink or you may miss the dolphin!
Another Rocket Frog, Alobates sp
Between Peru and
Ecuador!
Another pink dolphin
A large flock of Neotropical Cormorants
Swimming with the Pink Dolphins in Lagartococha
Cool leaf mimic butterfly
Toad hiding in a tree
Another Fer-de-Lance!
Hiking through the jungle
A leaf mimic toad, Rhinella dapsilis
Beautiful sunset over Lagartococha
This tiny frog feel into our boat and jumped on my arm
Black Caiman
The game camera captured something - the ear of some animal.
                                          
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page updated: 3/18/08