Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ecuador - Day 4

Today the benefits of a private guide really came into play.  For starters, we wanted to sleep in a little so instead of the typical activity start time of 6AM, we had ours start at 8AM.  This gave us time for extra sleep and a leisurely breakfast.  The night before, we told the guides that today's mission would be Giant Otters and Monkeys.  So, the morning plan was to canoe slowly down the main creek and back.

We started off by taking a slow tour around the lake.  The light was nice for a scenic lodge photo and we also managed to spot a few creatures as well.

Napo Wildlife Center

Long-nosed Bats Roosting:
Long-nosed Bats

Long-nosed Bat:
Long-nosed Bats

Black Caiman:
Black Caiman Eye

Apparently, people swim in this lake and Napo says that it is quite safe to do so during daylight hours around the dock.  But, you would never catch me swimming in a lake of black water (no visibility) that is home to large caiman, piranha, electric eel, anacondas, and the world's largest freshwater fish called the Arapaima. 

 The creek was alive with birds and we saw quite a few including this very cooperative Green and Rufous Kingfisher:
Green and Rufous Kingfisher

But the best was yet to come.  As we rounded a bend where the Night Monkey tree was located we were initially disappointed to see that they weren't peeking out today.  But, then we caught some movement farther up the tree.  A female Night Monkey was fully out of the tree hole and was carrying a juvenile on her back.  She saw us and quickly scampered down the tree and back to the hole but not before I got a couple of shots off:

Night Monkey Out in Daylight (briefly)

Seeing the Night Monkey fully out in broad daylight was a real treat.  But, it was about to get even better....

A few minutes later a passing canoe indicated that they saw Giant River Otters further down the creek.  Our excitement was overwhelming as our guides picked up the paddling pace.  Suddenly, they stopped paddling so we could listen.  We heard the otters vocalizing just around the bend.  We rounded the bend and could see four Giant Otter heads in the water.  They turned and saw us and let out some loud alarm calls and then started to swim away.  We followed at a respectful distance for a few minutes.  Every now and then one of the otters would turn towards us and propel itself up out of the water to get a better look.  When whales do this it is called "Spy-hopping".  I am not sure if the same term is appropriate or not for otters.  But, it did give us a great opportunity to see the markings on the necks and upper chests of these huge (up to 6 feet) mammals.

The otters proceeded to turn up a small creek that was filled with debris so we couldn't follow.  But, seeing and especially hearing these magnificent animals was a once in a lifetime experience.  Overall, I am disappointed by the photos I got due to the low light and quick moving otters.  But, the experience was amazing.

Giant River Otter Family

Giant River Otters

It's sad to think that there could be as few as 1,000 of these animals left in the wild.  This family of four is the only one in the area and we were really lucky to see them.

As amazing as the morning had been, it wasn't over yet.  This trip had more in store including looks at Guans, a Chachalaca (The best bird name EVER) and our first good look at a Trogon.

White-tailed Trogon:
White-tailed Trogon

Thanks to our incredible guides who could "hear" monkeys coming, we stopped and a huge troop of Common Squirrel Monkeys and White-fronted Capuchin Monkeys came climbing along the creek.

White-fronted Capuchin Monkey:
White-fronted Capuchin Monkey

Common Squirrel Monkey:
Common Squirrel Monkey Grooming

Before heading back to the lodge, we needed to make a "pit stop".  I don't know how the guides can go all day without, you know..."going".  But, we sure can't.  But, what do you do when you are in a canoe, on a creek, in the Amazon?  The only option is to answer nature's call in the middle of nature. That shouldn't be a big deal right?....Wrong.  To make a long personal story short, we ended up with Army Ants on us and they are no fun to try to remove.  Luckily, I was the only one to receive bites and the bites were only on my feet.  We got most off before getting back into the canoe and the rest were disposed of with only a little fight.  Not quite the type of excitement we had planned on.

Further upstream, the thoughts of Army Ants vanished quickly because the family of four Giant River Otters was back out in the main creek.  Unfortunately, they were hanging out behind some debris and were really playing "hard to photo".  We did get to see some great but brief glimpses of them.  They seemed very comfortable with us there and even were hunting out of sight. Over the course of the hour that we spent nearby we heard lots of communication between them and even the loud crunching of fish being eaten.

Giant River Otter Family

Giant River Otter with Crazy Eyes

We ended up taking video of both encounters with the otters.  It's great to be able to hear their unique calls.  You can check it out here.

The late afternoon trip was back to the canopy tower.  Between the hike to the tower and the views from the tower, our chances of seeing monkeys was pretty good.  Right after climbing out of the canoe, Delfin heard something and motioned us to stop.  He darted off trail and waved for us to follow.  He pointed about 30 yards ahead and we could make out some sort of large ground bird moving quickly away.  The looks weren't very good at all, so we turned around a bit disappointed.  However, Delfin proceeded to make some low guttural calls.  He continued this call and one other for a couple of minutes and, much to our surprise, the birds came back into view even closer than before.  They were also answering his calls.  The whole experience was amazing.  Delfin was a real life Dr. Doolittle.  The birds are Grey-winged Trumpeters and they are apparently a pretty rare sighting.

Grey-winged Trumpeters

Further along the hike we ran across some roosting Tent-making Bats:
Tent-Making Bat

Before reaching the tower, we had more excitement including obscured glimpses of a Saki Monkey and another herd of White-lipped Peccaries.  But, I wasn't able to get any decent photos of either due to all of the foliage.

That wasn't the case 230 sweaty steps later when we were atop the tower again.  As opposed to our previous trip in the morning, many of the birds were actually hanging out in the main tree.

Scale-breasted Woodpecker:
Scale-breasted Woodpecker,

Yellow-tufted Woodpecker:
Yellow-tufted Woodpecker

Ivory-billed Aracari:
Ivory-billed Aracari

We waited for the sun to go down and then hiked back in the dark hoping to see some night critters and we were in luck.

Whip Scorpion:
Whip Scorpion

Blunt-headed Snake:
Blunt-headed Snake

We also saw some fireflies whizzing around the dark jungle.  Back in the boat, the guides had us shine our flashlights along the shore.  Hundreds of small objects were glowing in the dark.  It turned out that these were firefly larva.  They are bio-luminescent and basically glow at night.  It was a cool phenomena to see in person.

Besides some swooping fishing bats over the lake and a few sets of large glowing caiman eyes, the rest of the trip back was uneventful.  But, the day certainly wasn't uneventful.  We asked our guides to find otters and monkeys and boy did they come through. We will remember this day for a long time.  It was fantastic!

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