Clay Lick – Day 4 at Sani Lodge, Amazon

Yasuni National Park

5AM breakfast call. Way too early but made easier with the strong Ecuadorian coffee. By 6AM we were heading back down the Napo River to Yasuni National Park (about an hour) to see the clay licks, where the parakeets, parrots and other related birds swarm the cliff to eat the exposed clay they need to help counter the toxins found in the outer coating of the seeds they feed on.

Today, two groups from the lodge were combined making us a total of ten including the guides. One guest was an avid bird watcher from the UK with a monster lens and camera mounted on a tripod set in the middle of the canoe to support the heavy equipment.

When we arrived at the cliff various types of parrots were already flocking in the trees above.

We watched and waited. From time to time different groups would swarm up and around the trees, sometimes completely leaving the area, only to be replaced by others flying in.

We watched and waited. About a half an hour later a tour boat from another lodge arrived. The two boats, ours and theirs, took turns motoring upstream and then floating back down pasts the clay cliffs. We watched and waited. The smaller parakeets were starting to inch their way closer to the cliff with some perched on the branches just above, but suddenly something spooked them and off they swarmed back and forth over the river and behind the trees only to land in the tree higher up and start the process of inching towards the cliff all over again.

After the third time the guides decided it was time to give up and go to the second parrot lick, but Freddy saw a parakeet moving down towards the cliff and decided to give them 15 more minutes. Within minutes the first parakeet landed on the lick and others quickly followed.

Soon the cliff became a frenzy of squawking birds all trying to get a piece of the action.

The boat made several passes past the cliff each time just a little bit closer.

Larger parrots joined the party, with each species seeming to have its particular section of the lick – the top area distinctly green with parakeets and the bottom ledge a soft blue-green of the parrots.

Napo Wildlife Center

When we all had seen enough and snapped more than enough shots the boat was fired up again and we headed further up river to the second lick at the Napo Wildlife Center in the Anangu Community. Here we descended from the boat and walked about 20 minutes into the jungle along a concrete path.

The lick itself is located at a patch of bare ground next to a small pool of water at the base of a cliff covered in vegetation.

An observation shelter stands just 30 yards from the cliff face. Here we sit and wait. Our friend with the monster camera sets up and dutifully mans his station while the others lay sleeping on the benches along the outer walls.

Everyone has been warned to stay quiet as to not frighten off the wildlife. After an hour or so we hear a loud flock of squawking birds. We wait and watch in hushed whispers and silence. The flock, sometimes louder, becomes more distant with the distinct squawking of a macaw. It takes another two and half hours before we finally see the first birds at the tops of the trees, and another half an hour after that before the first brave bird takes a sip at the pool.

And then in an instant the lick fills with a swarm of parakeets descending on the small pond, darting in and out of the small opening in the cliff, their flapping wings a blur of blue in contrast with their small green bodies.

The air is filled with the squawking of parakeets and the whoosh of flapping wings like bats coming out of a cave.

We watch the frenzy for more than hour, the party still going strong when we realize it is after two and we still haven’t eaten lunch. Truly one of those amazing sights you hate to leave. But leave we must and we pack up our cameras in silence and head back to the dock and board the canoe.

December 7, 2011

For links to all the posts in this series see the Ecuador page.