Antisana Reserve & Sacha Lodge, Ecuador

July 22-31, 2009

with Field Guides Leader: Dave Stejskal and local guides Oscar T. and Segundo

Pre-trip to Antisana Volcano Reserve with Charlie Vogt of Andean Birding

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LCJ Bird List

Butterfly Photos

for more details
see Martin Selzer narration

July 21, 2009 (Tuesday)
Today was a travel day. Our official Field Guides tour didn't start until July 23rd but we decided to go down a day early and do a pre-trip birding day with Andean Birding. Before heading out to the lowlands of eastern Ecuador and Sacha Lodge we wanted to do some birding at altitude. We'd birded Papallacta Pass in 2006 and fallen in love with the high paramo grasslands plus both Martin and I were hopeful about seeing Condors.

We left Philly around 11:30AM and arrived in Quito around 7PM with a brief layover in Miami. By 9PM we were safely settled in the Sheraton.

July 22, 2009 (Wednesday)
Charlie Vogt of Andean Birding met us in the hotel lobby at 6AM sharp and we were off for the day to the Antisana Volcano Ecological Reserve , about 1 1/2 hours east of Quito. Birding here was quite successful and we began to see our target birds right away, before leaving the treeline.

highlights included: Shining Sunbeam, Tufted Tit-tyrant, Red-crested Cotinga, Plain-colored Seedeater, Cinereous Conebill, Grass Wren, Rufous-naped Brush-finch, Spectacled Whitestart, Brown backed Chat-Tyrant, Black Flowerpiecer, Tyrian Metaltail. and Giant Hummingbird. We also had Variable ("Puna") Hawks, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles and Carunculated Caracaras.

Of course one of the "big" birds of the day was the juvenile Andean Condor that circled casually over our head. And it was only 9AM.

Juvenile and adult Carunculated Caracaras playing toss the rabbit on Antisana

Climbing even higher we left the trees behind and entered the real paramo grasslands: lush grasses and shrubs blowing in the ever present winds. We added both cinclodes (Bar-winged and Stout-billed), Plumbeous Sierra-finch , Paramo Pipit, Ecuadorian Hillstar, lots of Andean Lapwings, 2 canesteros (Many-striped and Streak-backed), Black-winged Ground-Doves and Aplomado Falcon.

Lunch was overlooking Lake Mica with Andean Coot, Andean Teal, Andean Ruddy Ducks, Silvery Grebes and Yellow-billed Pintails. A last minute find were 2 Black-faced Ibis , not close but very distinctive in the scope.

Many-striped Canestero

We then began our leisurely drive back to Quito, seeing 2 more condors (this time, adults) on our way down the volcano. We were back at the Sheraton by 4:30PM with plenty of time for a nice dinner at the hotel before turning in for the night. It had been a full day with excellent birds, much thanks to Charlie Vogt who did a great job showing us the specialties of Antisana.

July 23, 2009 (Thursday)
Breakfast at 6:30AM where we finally got to meet the other members of our group and off to the airport around 8AM. We needed to fly from Quito to the town of Coca but the closure of the Coca airport changed our plans. Fortunately the good people of Sacha Lodge take all the stress out of visiting. Their representative met us at the Quito airport, explained the change of plans , handed us our boarding passes and we were safely in the air by 9:45AM.

Our new destination was Lago Agrio where we were met by our own personal bus for transport to Coca. The 2 hour bus trip allowed us to do some birding en route although at 50MPH all looks were fleeting. We were soon delivered safely to Coca in time for a nice lunch before boarding our motorized launch for the 2 hour trip down the Rio Napo. The Napo flows eastward and becomes one of the large tributaries of the Amazon River.

Travelling down river, zig zagging our way around the ever shifting sand bars, we were able to pick out some nice birds: White-winged and White-banded Swallows, Black Caracara, Large billed Terns and Yellow-billed Terns . But the highlight came when our local birding guide, Oscar T. , had the boat do a u-turn for a Great Potoo perched along the side of the river. It was an amazing find and everyone got great looks.

We disembarked at the Sacha Boat Ramp around 3PM and immediately started birding. Our luggage mysterious disappeared ahead of us as did the other lodge visitors but we lingered. Birds and butterflies were everywhere and it took us a couple of hours to walk the "30 minute" Anden Trail.

Sacha Lodge is a private 5000 acre reserve and this trail is the main entrance road. We would get to know it very well over our 7 day stay. For now we took our time at the landing site and enjoyed such birds as Russet-backed Oropendolas, Black-fronted Nunbird, Black-banded Woodcreeper, Orange-fronted Plushcrowns, Scarlet-crowned Barbets, Piratic Flycatchers, Plum-fronted Cotinga, Violaceous Jay and Black-tailed Tityra.

Then came the rains and we learned why this is called the "rain forest". So we started out the Anden Trail arriving at another boat landing for our canoe crossing of Lake Pilchicocha to Sacha Lodge, arriving around 6PM. It's a very dramatic entrance to the lodge paddling across this still blackwater lake.

After a brief welcome and intro we were off to our rooms to get ready for dinner.

July 24, 2009 (Friday)
Breakfast was in the main dining hall at 5:30AM (most of the other guests get to sleep in). Then we walked out the CHOZA Trail to a series of metal towers connected by elevated walkways. They are amazing structures erected so far out here in the jungle. The plan was to arrive as early as possible so it was barely dawn when we started out with not much bird activity so we arrived in about 35 minutes. Our guides for our entire visit here will be the amazing Oscar T. who has supernatural birding abilities and his excellent assistant, Segundo, who with his machete could re-build the world.

From the top you have an amazing view and a great opportunity to look down on those canopy specialists that are usually so impossible to see from the ground. We had great eye-level looks at Double-toothed Kite perched on a wire. We also had more rain, some of it quite heavy. Fortunately no lightening so we just waited it out.

Some of the birds seen were Squirrel Cuckoo, Purplish Jacamar, Ivory-billed Aracari, Many-banded Aracari, Red-stained Woodpecker, Dugandís Antwren, White-lored Euphonia, Black-capped Becard, and Flame-crested Tanager.

Heading down for the trip back to the lodge we were amazed to find an Emeral Boa, curled up and peacefully sleeping on one of the cross beams of the metal tower.

White-lored Euphonia

Squirrel cuckoo

Emerald Boa

After lunch and a brief siesta we met at the boat ramp around 3:30PM for a canoe trip around the lake edges. Fortunately the rain had stopped and the trip was quite lovely with lots of nice birds: lots Hoatzins, a Common Potoo, a juvenile Rufescent Tiger Heron, Red-capped Cardinal, Snail and Slender-billed Kites, Cream-colored Woodpecker and Black-capped Donacobius.

Common Potoo

juvenile Rufescent Tiger-Heron

Cream-colored Woodpecker

Then it was back to the Anden Trail where thanks to the amazing Oscar T. we got great looks at a pair of Crested Owls as well as nice looks at Collared Puffbird and Tawny-bellied Screech-owl.

Back to the canoes we crossed the lake in near darkness to the sounds of Common Parauque before heading to the dining hall for another great meal.

July 25, 2009 (Saturday)
Breakfast again at 5:30AM before some more canoe birding, this time along the Orquidea Creek out to another tower, this one a wooden tower that wraps around an enormous Kapok Tree.

Once again we had a nice selection of birds : Speckled Chachalacas are quite common around the lodge as are the ubiquitous Hoatzins . But we also had: Lesser Kiskadee, Smooth-billed and Greater Ani, Silvered Antbird, Dot-backed Antbird, White-shouldered Antbird. Plumbeous Antibird and Orange-crested Manakin We also had Amazonian Scrub-Flycatcher, and Eulerís Flycatcher .

Climbing the wooden tower we emerged through the canopy and again had an awesome panoramic view of the forest. We also had Tanagers: Paradise, Masked and Opal-rumped. Gilded Barbets flitted overhead with White-browed Purpletufts and Purple-throated Cotinga in the mix.


After a couple of hours we climbed down and headed back to the lodge; birding en route.

After lunch and a brief siesta we again met at the boat ramp around 3:30PM and headed out to explore Anaconda Creek. Hoatzins were again quite evident but we added a few new species like Cinnamon Attila, Chestnut Woodpecker and White-chinned Jacamar. We also got some great looks at a troop of Red Howler Monkeys.

Once again, we stopped at the Anden Trail before heading back across the lake in time fore dinner.

July 26, 2009 (Sunday)
Breakfast at 5AM today because we're headed across the Napo to the south side to Yasuni National Park and the Napo Wildlife Center. Today we visit a parrot clay lick. Parrots in western Amazonia are unique in that they utilize these clay licks, possibly to supplement their diets or to counteract the toxins they injest.

We canoe across the lake around 5:45AM and walk the Anden Trail where we find Chestnut-eared Toucanet but not much more. Reaching the Napo we board out motorized boat for the trip across the river. We cruise past a few of the ephemeral river islands where we found Ladder-tailed Nighjars, Collared Plovers, Black Skimmers, Yellow and Large-billed Terns and Oriole Blackbirds.

The first lick we visit attracts the big Amazonas and while we had a few Blue-headed and Yellow-crowned Parrots in the trees, the lick was strangely quiet so we boarded the boat and headed for another spot. Along the way we had Drab Water-Tyrants, Dusky-headed Parakeets and Blue and Yellow Macaws .

The second lick is inland and requires a short hike to a "blind" where about 20 people were already assembled waiting for the action to start. It took a while but we were surrounded by the squawks of Cobalt-winged Parakeets. Gradually they began to work their way lower in the trees until finally they dived into the lick and all heck broke loose.

Cobalt-winged Parakeets coming in to a clay lick at the Yasuni National Park's
interior clay lick. The flashes of red are Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlets

When the show ended we enjoyed a leisurely lunch before birding our way back to the boat. While cruising Oscar spotted a brown Anaconda curled up under water and we got a chance to get great looks at this handsome fellow.

Then it was back to Sacha for dinner.

July 27, 2009 (Monday)
Another 5AM breakfast because we're headed over to the south side again, this time to bird a trail over there. So it was back across the lake, along the Anden Trail to the boat landing. and again we had some good birding at the landing area: Swallow, Magpie and Palm Tanagers; Russett-backed and Crested Oropendolas; Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Black-fronted Nunbird, House Wren; Variegated and Piratic Flycatchers, and the ubiquitous Tropical Kingbird. There were also female Plum-throated Cotinga and White-winged Becard.

We crossed the Napo to visit an area called Providencia. Travelling up a narrow channel we had Green Kingfisher, Green Ibis, Black-fronted Nunbird, Yellow-headed Caracara, Long-billed Starthroat, Orange-backed Troupial, Grayish Saltator, Green Oropendola. Overhead we had Short-tailed Swifts .

Walking the very muddy trail (rain continues every day), we tried for some of those hard to see forest species: "hard to see" being the operative phrase. We had varying degrees of success with several "Ant-thingies" like Gray Antbird, Sooty Antwren, nice looks at Western Striped Manakin, Gray Antwren, Long-winged Antwren, Banded Antbird and Rufous-capped Antthrush.

We stopped at a thatched hut for a nice picnic lunch as the rains returned. We then headed back to the canoe for the trip home and got great looks at a gorgeous Wire-tailed Manakin before boarding the boat. Oscar suggested a brief stop at one of the river islands and we were rewarded with Castelnau's Antshrike .

Back along the Anden Trail and more rain before crossing the lake back to the lodge in time for dinner.

July 28, 2009 (Tuesday)
More rain.... all night. After a 5:30AM breakfast we meet to walk back to the wooden Kapok Tree Tower. It was a long muddy slog out to the tower but thanks to raingear, including the ever-present boots, everything stayed dry. We spent about 4 hours on the tower (in and out of rain). The birding was not as active but we had some nice looks at Squirrel Monkeys and a very obscured Hoffman's 3-toed Sloth.

Great looks at Squirrel Monkey

Bird Highlights included: Green Ibis, Ruddy Pigeon, White-necked Puffbird, Golden-collared Toucanet, 5 species of woodcreepers (Plain-brown, Oliveceous, Amazonian-Barred, Straight-billed and Buff-throated), 3 species of euphonia (White-lored, Orange-bellied and Rufous-bellied), Yellow-bellied Dacnis and Green Honeycreeper.

There also were many of the usual suspects around such as Yellow-rumped Caciques, Russet-backed Oropendola, Violaceous Jays, White-browed Purpletufts and Crowned Slaty-Flycatchers. Around noon we headed down and worked our way back along the path to the lodge and lunch.

Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher

Masked Crimson Tanager

After lunch and siesta we met at the boat launch for another canoe trip on the Anaconda Creek. Along with our old friends (Hoatzins, Tiger-Herons, Speckled Chachalacas, Greater and Lesser Kiskadees etc), we also had Chestnut Woodpecker, Masked, Masked-crimson, Silver-beaked, Gray-headed and Green and Gold Tanagers, a Purple Honeycreeper and a LaFresnayeís Piculet. . Birding by canoe has it's drawbacks and we missed a few birds but we managed to also add White-bearded Manakin, Rufous-tailed Flatbill, Point-tailed Palmcreeper, Moustached Wren and Bat Falcon .

Back to the lodge for dinner.

July 29, 2009 (Wednesday)
Another early breakfast at 5AM because we have a date back on the Napo. This time we plan to visit some of the river islands so it was back across the lake, walk the Anden Trail and pick up the motorized boat at the landing. Our first stop was about 20 minutes downriver.

Within minutes of landing we had lots of specialty birds: Caqueta Seedeaters, White-throated Kingbirds (with Tropical Kingbirds nearby for comparison) three spinetail species: Parkerís, White-bellied, and Dark-breasted . Plus we also had a Lesser Hornero and Chestnut-bellied Seedeaters plus Yellow-browed Sparrow and Striated Heron, all within a few hundred yards. A real treat was the incredibly tiny Gray-breasted Crake that skirted around us in the cane brake. Before leaving we were treating to great repeated fly by looks at Rufous-headed Woodpeckers . Then it was back to the lodge just in time for lunch and a brief siesta.

In the afternnon we walked the Lianachica Trail which is one of the trails that leads out to the metal towers. We had some great looks at Black-faced Antbird and Peruvian Warbling Antbird and more looks at Wire-tailed Manakin . We also saw Spixís and Plain-brown Woodcreepers. By then it was getting dark and making it even harder to see well in the forest shadows so we headed back to the lodge and dinner.

A real treat at Sacha is the chance to drift along the waterways.

July 30, 2009 (Thursday)
It's our last day and It will be really hard to leave this amazing place. The bags were packed and put out before breakfast while we enjoyed our last moments. Sacha is an amazing place, remote and yet run with expert precision. All needs are anticipated and met by an incredible staff.

After breakfast we canoed back across the lake and , for the last time , walked Anden. The forest was quiet but the monkeys were very active and we got great looks at White-faced Capuchins and Squirrel Monkeys. We also had Plumbeous Antbird and Yellow-tufted woodpecker . At the boat launch waiting to load we were given our final treat, a Lemon-throated Barbet showed up to say good-bye.

So it was back up the Napo to Coca to catch our plane (the airport was re-opened) and back to Quito and the Sheraton in time for an afternoon rest before meeting for our final farewell dinner. It was a lovely end to a great trip.