December 25, 1997 - January 2, 1998

Allen Chartier

Trip Log
     Day 1      Day 6  
     Day 2      Day 7 
     Day 3      Day 8
     Day 4      Day 9
     Day 5      

Species Accounts
After our problems in southern Ecuador in November 1996, Neblina Forest offered Nancy and I a free stay at an Amazonian Lodge. We selected Kapawi Lodge, as Allen had planned a trip for a local group and wanted to scout the area. By the time we booked the trip, the discount only applied to one of us! It was apparently quite difficult to get a bird guide to go with us on January 1, as we were originally promised Jonas Neillson (sp?) for the day. We were then told that Jonas had moved back to Sweden, so we would be going with Lelis. The week before the trip, we were told that Lelis was involved in the discovery of a new antpitta, and would have to go with Robert Ridgely to the area near Vilcabamba where he had found it, which was going to conflict with our trip on January 1. We were then told that Giovanni would be our guide. On arrival, Mercedes, with Neblina Forest, told us that Giovanni was not available! Apparently, his wife "wouldn't let him lead another tour" as he had just led a couple recently. Mercedes said she would try and get Paul Greenfield to go with us. When we returned from the Amazon, she told us that Lou Jost would be our guide. This was satisfactory, of course, as we know Lou and had birded with him at La Selva Lodge a few years ago. Imagine our surprise when we bumped into Jonas at Bellavista Lodge!

All in all, it was a good trip. Getting to and from Kapawi Lodge is too unpredictable to include with any additional days on an itinerary. The lodge was very nice, and comfortable, and there was a lot of good pristine rainforest all around, with lots of microhabitats easily accessible. Anyone doing this area should allow a couple extra days for departure delays. Allen ended up reorganizing the trip for the group in March 1998, with three days at Sacha Lodge instead of at Kapawi.

Day 1, Thursday, December 25, 1997
We got an early start this morning to catch our American Airlines flight scheduled to depart at 6:50 a.m. for Miami. The airport wasn't as busy as we expected for Christmas Day. After our flight crew arrived from Chicago, where they were stranded last night, we left at about 11:00 a.m.! We arrived in Miami at about 1:40 p.m. and waited outside the terminal in the "fresh air" for our next flight. Our rental car reservation had certainly been given away. We had hoped to do some local birding during our 7 hour layover, but now that the layover was cut to 3 1/2 hours it didn't make sense to try and go anywhere.

After leaving 20 passengers behind in order to take on more fuel, due to an apparent refuelers strike in Quito, our 5:10 p.m. American Airlines flight was under way at about 6:00 p.m. We arrived in Quito at 9:30 p.m.and were met by Mercedes of Neblina Forest. Not surprisingly, the arrangements for tomorrow, and our last day, had changed. So much for insisting on written confirmations! We got settled into the Embassy Hotel by 10:40 p.m. after a climb up 3 flights of stairs (welcome to 9300 feet elevation!).


Day 2, Friday, December 26, 1997
Mercedes told us that we would be picked up in the hotel lobby at 8:00 a.m. to be driven to the Quito airport, where we were to catch a charter flight direct to Kapawi Lodge.

Consistent with all our past experiences with Neblina Forest, this was not what the arrangements really were, and we received a call at 6 a.m. from the bus driver who was waiting in the lobby to drive us 200 kilometers to Shell (a 6 hour drive), where we were to meet our charter flight! The hotel was apparently supposed to give us a fax telling us of the last minute changes (apparently made after 10 p.m.), but had not done so. There were 14 people that were going to Kapawi, and we drove around Quito to several hotels, picking up other dazed, equally uninformed participants. After everyone was on board, we had to stop and switch busses (I don't know what the problem was, but the new bus was definitely a downgrade).

We finally got under way at 8:00 a.m. It was a long ride, but the part between Baņos and Puyo was particularly interesting (but no birding stops). We arrived at the airport in Shell around 2:30 p.m. and were told it would be a 1 1/2 hour wait for the larger plane (which would hold 12 people), but two people could go in a small Cessna right away. Our guide asked us if we would be interested, and we said yes. We would be arriving much earlier than the rest of the group, and would have time for some birding in the afternoon at Kapawi.

We flew over rainforest continuously for about 45 minutes, then landed at a small dirt airstrip that was barely visible until a few seconds before we landed. After a short boat ride of a few minutes, we arrived at Kapawi Lodge and met our guide, Chris Canaday, and were shown to our room. We dropped our luggage, assembled the birding equipment, and met Chris for a short walk around the self-guiding trail behind the lodge. Dinner was late, around 8:00 p.m., to accommodate the rest of the group's late arrival. After dinner, we met with Chris to discuss our itinerary for the next four days. The cabins are on the edge of a small oxbow lake off a tributary of the Rio Pastaza, and we were treated to lots and lots of loudly calling frogs all night long, just outside our window!


Day 3, Saturday, December 27, 1997
After a 5:00 a.m. breakfast, we boarded a small speedboat with Chris and our Achuar guide Ramiro. We went up the Rio Pastaza for about 1/2 hour to a nondescript area of river bank where the Kusutkau River trail began. It was about an 8 kilometer walk to the Rio Kusutkau, where we ate our lunch. This trail was mostly varzea forest, but with small patches of terra firme. The whole area of Kapawi seems to be a mosaic of varzea and terra firme, which contributes to the bird diversity. There are currently three species that may be new to science at Kapawi, which have not been described yet. Two were apparently possible along this trail, one a Myrmotherula antwren similar to White-eyed, and a Herpsilochmus antwren similar to Spot-backed or Dugand's. 

After lunch, we went to the edge of the Rio Kusutkau, where a non-motorized dugout canoe had been left for us. The Giant Otters on the tributary leading off the Kusutkau don't tolerate motors, and the lodge forbids motors on this tributary. We only had to go upstream for about 15 minutes before we encountered one, and had a wonderful experience as it approached the boat to within 30 feet, and frequently popped its head far out of the water and snorted at us like a horse! A magnificent animal, and quite large. This one was every bit of 6 feet long, and possibly more. 

We turned around and had a long paddle back to the lodge. Luckily, we were heading downstream, but the current wasn't very swift. Soon after we started downstream, it started to rain. Then it started to rain really hard. We got soaked to the skin in spite of our raingear. We all had to help paddle  the dugout canoe (the first time we have done so) during the torrential rains. After about 30 minutes, the downpour stopped and we investigated another small oxbow lake, then headed back to the lodge amid more rain. We arrived in time for a shower and dinner. The frog chorus had subsided some this evening, as the lake level had dropped considerably, and we were no longer right at the water's edge. The frog chorus was enhanced by owls calling near our cabin.


Day 4, Sunday, December 28, 1997
Something died a horrible death out in the lake during the night, as we heard a blood-curdling screaming that went on for three or four minutes, at about 2:00 a.m. After another 5:00 a.m. breakfast, we took the short boat ride back to the Kapawi airstrip (there are four airstrips in the area the lodge uses) and walked a trail north through terra firme forest. We had lunch at our farthest point out on the trail, where it rained. On our way back, we stopped in Kapawi Village, where Ramiro lives, and we met his wife, children, and father. We were treated (?) to large bowls of fermented manioc. It had a bitter, beer-like flavor, but was rather milky (in taste and color) and had a woody flavor (and abundant "pulp"). We would have appeared impolite if it wasn't for the heroic efforts of Chris, who not only drank the two bowls offered to him, but drank most of Nancy's and the last half of Allen's! Not something we crave now that we're home. We returned to the lodge and walked the self-guiding trail one more time before dinner.


Day 5, Monday, December 29, 1997
This morning we boarded a larger, covered, motorized canoe to cross the Rio Pastaza to reach the Wachirpas trailhead. As the water levels had gone down, we got stuck on a sandbar about half way across the Pastaza, about 200 yards from the far shore. We had to get out and push! Luckily, the river was only about a foot deep, and the sand underneath was quite firm. After about 75 yards of pushing, we were free and continued to the far shore. This trail was another through terra firme forest, and one of the other guides had marked a spot where she had seen a Black-necked Red-Cotinga yesterday while guiding a group of non-birders. They apparently had excellent looks. When we got to the spot, we did hear the bird call many times, and we waited for it to appear, but it never showed itself. At the other end of the trail, farther down the Pastaza, we found lots of colorful butterflies drinking water and minerals on the sand on the river bank. It started to rain just as we left. We had lunch at the lodge.

We waited out the rain until 3:00 p.m., then walked the self-guiding trail to the turnoff for the Lalo Cocha trail. We eventually had to give up on this trail, as it was too hilly with slippery mud for us to be able to concentrate on anything except staying upright. The Field Guides, Inc. group that was on tour here tried to get out to Quito today, but didn't succeed. Their luggage did make it, however, and they were stranded with nothing! The Sharamentsa airstrip was waterlogged and muddy, as was the Kapawi airstrip. Only the Ishpingo airstrip had enough clay content to dry reasonably quickly between rain showers, and the group would try this one tomorrow. We all had dinner together again.


Day 6, Tuesday, December 30, 1997
We took the small speedboat this morning and skirted a long way around the ever-rising sandbar in the river, and headed back upstream to Sharamentsa Island. At La Selva in 1991 we didn't spend enough time on the river island there to see any of the specialists that inhabit them. We were quite successful with these, as well as the third newly discovered species of the area, an undescribed species of Arremonops sparrow similar to Black-striped. It had a gray back instead of an olive back, and had a quite different song. It was quite common in the scrub at the northern end of this island. The bird's discoverer, Dave Stejskal of Field Guides, thinks that Pastaza Sparrow would be an appropriate name for it, as it has only been found on river islands along the Pastaza River. It started to rain just before lunchtime, so we took the boat to the shelter at the Sharamentsa airstrip. We waited out the rain for a couple of hours, then headed back downstream. We found a few birds on our leasurely trip back, and also had brief looks at a Pink River Dolphin. Back at the lodge, we were surprised to see Dave and three participants of his trip still stranded! Apparently only two plane-loads got out today before the rain set in.


Day 7, Wednesday, December 31, 1997
A late start caused us to have to cancel our plans to get dropped off at Ishpingo to find the Pale-eyed Blackbirds (extremely rare in Ecuador) that the Field Guides tour had discovered there. Instead, we had to hurry to the airstrip in order to get the last of their group on a plane. Three of them got away, but just barely as the rain turned torrential just when the plane roared down the runway. We thought we might be delayed too, as the torrent continued for another 20 minutes, but eventually the sun came out and began to dry the airstrip. Needless to say, any plans for last minute birding had to be cancelled as we had to be ready to jump in to the Cessna as soon as it returned in about an hour and a half. 

When the plane arrived, it was quickly refueled, and we all had to shout out our weights on the runway, for all to hear, in order for them to determine the optimum amount of fuel to use. We departed at 1:00 p.m., flying through rain most of the way, and arrived at Macas at 1:40 p.m. We ended up missing lunch, and the possibilities at the Macas airport were limited. Our jet to Quito arrived and we departed at 3:00 p.m. We were met at the airport by Mercedes, and on the ride to the hotel we discussed changes that needed to be made in the itinerary for the group in March (in other words, everything needed to be redone). We walked up the street a short distance to a small restaurant for dinner, then walked to the Hotel Colon to see if the Libri Mundi was open (it wasn't) as the one near our hotel was closed. I guess New Year's Eve isn't prime time for bookstores!


Day 8, Thursday, January 1, 1998
We met Lou Jost in the lobby of the hotel at 6:00 a.m. Our driver was Luis, who had been our driver for the entire southern Ecuador trip in November 1996, and he remembered us too (possibly because we got very sick in Zamora). We headed straight to Bellavista Lodge and explored a few of the trails and roads in the area. This is the only part of the March 1998 itinerary that will remain intact. We went to the lodge to check out the excellent hummingbird feeders, and to talk a bit with owner John Parsons about our upcoming trip. We then headed up the Nono-Mindo road about 4 kilometers to a spot where Lyre-tailed Nighjars could be found. We succeeded quite spectacularly, then returned to Quito for a late dinner at the hotel.


Day 9, Friday, January,2, 1998
Luis picked us up at the hotel at 7:30 a.m. and drove us to the airport. We only barely had enough money left to pay the departure tax of $25 US. Our flight left on time, and we arrived in Miami at 1:50 p.m. Our flight back to Detroit was uneventful, and on time. We got home around 10:00 p.m.