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November 30, 2016


IMG_2012Our last day at Guango Lodge, a morning shower helps to clear my head, and we have our breakfast – delicious papaya, scrambled eggs, and croissants. All our food here has been excellent, freshly made, and creatively presented.

Ann slips out to watch the morning feeding of the Antpitta. She’s the first person out on the trails, and all alone gets nice looks at him skulking around the garden paths before the actual feeding begins. After a while a group of Pitta-watchers has gathered and I slip in at the back, and about six of us are gathered when Mr. Antpitta slips in and puts on his show. As we walk back to the lodge, I see a small hummer and point out to Ann the Mountain Avocet-bill at the same feeding hole on the same feeder where Mauricio and I had seen him earlier. Eureka!

The night and the altitude have wiped me out and I head back to the room at 8AM for a nap! When I awaken refreshed one hour later, Ann has the packing nearly done. I had slept soundly through it, and so either she was mighty quiet or I was really zonked . . . probably both. So together we complete the packing, complete the evaluation form, and decide on the amount of tip for the household staff and cooks, and just as we finish our tasks, the rains return. We have spent the two driest, sunniest hours inside!

Most of the rest of the morning we spend indoors talking to other refugees from the rain, and after lunch, we go up on the Cascada Trail one last time. It rains the whole time, and though the forest is beautiful even in the rain, the birds have hunkered down, and we see almost none.

The lodge at Guango has beautiful gardens and paths, under a dense over story of large trees that is sandwiched into a narrow wedge with the pipeline right-of-way and a river close by on one side, and a steeply down-sloping stretch of the highway on the other. You are never, at any time of day or night, away from the sound of large trucks either struggling to make the climb up the Andes to the west or using airbrakes or engine braking to maintain control downhill to the east. Fortunately, there are lovely trails along the river and on the slopes above the highway on the other side of the road, and with the ever-crowded hummingbirds at many feeders, and mixed flocks of tanagers/wood creepers/wrens at intervals along the trails,  your mind soon learns to block out the din of vehicles.


Swordbill Hummingbird

Mauricio shows up around 2pm and we load up for the 2-hour drive east to our next lodge, Cabanas San Isidro. There are a few small towns along the way, and the highway itself has provided a corridor along which scattered business and small agricultural clearings climb a quarter of the way upslope on both sides of the road. From the uphill edge of the small fincas (farms) to the crest of the roadside hills and mountains to the horizon as far as you can see, often for many ridgelines into the distance, it is untouched primary forest. And in fact, there are extensive areas where this pristine habitat extends all the way to the road shoulder with no sign of human industriousness at all. The forested land to the right side of the highway is the Antisana Reserve, and Sumaco and Coca National Parks include the lands to our left.


The fact that the vast reserves abut each other for such huge distances, with at most a quarter mile zone of human-altered land in only a handful of areas in between, means that wildlife large and small can range freely over millions of acres, and ensures genetic viability rather than the island effect that characterizes nature reserves in the USA and so many other parts of the world. Occasionally, you see a cluster of concrete buildings off in the cloud forest with almost no cleared land around them; these are infrastructure for the oil pipeline that traverses the country.

Turning off the main highway, a short drive of several miles along a dirt road takes us to Cabanas San Isidro. Only the dirt road passes near, and it has about the same traffic load as Huffman Creek Road at home. The cabanas are scattered over twenty acres or so in areas of small trees that seems to me to be second growth forest, with the taller and stouter primary forest trees all around at the edge of the cabana area. There are several more cabanas at the other end of the complex, near the large glassed dining room with a wide covered veranda facing the mountains to the east. The most prominent is the Guacamayos Ridge, where we are scheduled to walk tomorrow. The birding around the parking area is fabulous, and we soon find a special skulking ground bird, Swainson’s Thrush – here from North America for the winter. Eleven more species before dinner, 2 of them lifers.


Our fixings are half of a free-standing duplex; we have two double beds, a sitting area with a view to the Guacamayos Ridge only a few miles away, and our own small porch with the same view to the south and the cloud forest right there a stone’s throw away at the west. There are five or six duplexes and maybe a single down slope from us, and at the end is a big glassed-in common room with lots of soft seating, a pool table, darts, and a cute little observation deck on the roof.

Ann and I head back to our cabana after dinner to find that Mauricio has staked out the mysterious San Isidro Owl. It superficially resembles the Black-banded Owl, but is out of range for that species, has slightly different markings, and makes distinctly different sounds. Could it be a special subspecies, or a different species altogether? Hope someone will do some DNA work and make a firm decision.

After enjoying the owl, we heard what Mauricio identified as night monkeys making all forms of vocal and foliage-thrashing racket as a troop of 3 or 4 moved through the trees. We raced up to the observation roof just in time to get a get an eye to eye, tree-top look at a Night Monkey in the beam of our powerful spotlight. Easy to see how they got the official name of Noisy Night Monkey. Their head and face shape, tail length and body proportions are so similar to a Kinkajou . . . sure looks like a case of convergent evolution.


Finally, to bed with rain on our roof.

Ann’s Note: Take a look at both of these lodges. We highly recommend them! Also, there are many Youtube videos of the hummingbird feeders at Guango. Check them out, too.


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