Parrots, butterflies, and sunset from the Kapok

Trip Start Jan 19, 2012
Trip End Feb 03, 2012

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Flag of Ecuador  , Orellana,
Monday, January 23, 2012

Sacha Lodge Lake Pilchicocha

This morning the two teams are reunited for a trip to the parrot clay lick in the Yasuni National Park. This requires that we retrace our steps to the Napo River: canoe to the opposite end of the lake, 30 minute walk to the river, geared up with life vests, and handed and stacked into rows in the speedboat.

Then we are off down the cocoa colored river heading further away from Coca, splashing foam and wind in our wake. It's a short ride. The boat swings around to allow the engine to hold us in place against the current.

There, on the exposed wall of dark earth that is the south bank of the river, hundreds of parrots are gathered to eat the clay which contains the elements that allow them to eat unripened fruit that would otherwise be poisonous to them. The elements of the clay bind with the poisons, and nullify them. How the forces of evolution worked out this solution is astounding! Apparently, there are several "licks" (a misnomer since they carve out the clay with their beaks and eat not lick it) in the area. The parrots eat the clay every few days, changing between sites depending upon presence of predators, like hawks. They may be scared off away from a site, but return to it later on.

The parrots are in a  riotous frenzy as they fly to the clay from perches on nearby trees, gouge out a bite while clinging to the clay, then return to the trees. At first they all look to be of the same "tribe" of grey-green parrots. Then Paulo begins to point out variations that show their diversity. Some have red inside their wings, some have bits if white, and some very vivid blue helmets. We can barely hear him speaking from the front of the canoe. The parrots are only quiet for that brief moment when their beaks are full. So much shouting! It seems to be part of the ritual. They must have a lot to discuss!

Then we begin to return up the river, closer to shore and coming to a stop when our amazing guides find something of interest: stinky Turkeys, tiny bats that look like dried leafs clinging to a tree trunk at water's edge, osprey, ....

Back to our Sacha pit stop where we once again begin the trip back home. Shower time then photo organizing before lunch.

At 3:30 I head over to the Mariposaria for butterfly viewing before our trip to the Kapok tower. The butterflies are kept in a large screened tent shaped structure with typical double door entrance to keep the butterflies from escaping. The gauzy "ceiling" allows a hazy sunlight to warm the area. It is like a sauna; very hot and humid. There are diverse plant areas where favored flowers grow, stands where banana pieces are laid out for consumption, and a pond in the center. Off to the side is a cabinet where the colorful chrysalis are hung awaiting the big event.

I begin to slowly walk around the plants, carefully watching the ground where I step, and searching for wide spread wings to photograph. In general, they're not cooperating. Although their activity is much less frantic at this time of day, they are still flitting about. They alight for brief seconds on this flower or that and then move on. They fold up their wings when alighting, so not optimum photo pose. One chooses to alight on the end of my lens; also not an optimum photo pose.

After about 30 minutes I'm drenched in sweat. I sit down on one of several benches and cross my legs, deciding to wait for the butterflies to settle nearby rather than stalking them. This apparently is the best plan, since one immediately lands on my shoe and spreads it's wings. Now this is optimum butterfly pose- well, maybe not optimum since the shot will include shoe and laces. Not exactly butterfly in their natural environment.

I say goodbye and head to the lodge to cool off and top off my water bottle before the next adventure. The Kapok tree is one of the tallest in the forest. It looks much like a banyan tree to me, with massive root structure grown out and down from the sides. It has the appearance of the stabilizing wings at the base of a rocket ship ready for launch. Sacha has built a wooden tower around the massive tree that is about 40 meters high (you do the math).

In order to reach the tree, we load into a canoe and head across the lake to the east this time. We pull into one of the little inlets and begin the quiet, ethereal, floating through the cool, dark forest. Eventually we reach a pier for a short walk to the tree. As we ascend , we discover that the stairs are somewhat differentiated in size and distance from each other. A certain amount of watchful care is needed. The builders didn't have blue print apparently.

Although the height is very similar to the metal towers, the experience is much different. This feels like we're part of the trees, not a alien intrusion into their space. At the top, Ernesto and Paulo set up the spotting scope and begin the amazing process of locating birds in the canopy. They don't spot too many, which is fine by me. I'm very much distracted by the view. The sun is now beginning to set with a cooperating cloud low on the horizon providing a very dramatic display, dividing the sun and glowing a glorious red. A magnificent goodby for us.

Packing tonight for an early departure tomorrow.
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