Gareno is a superb birding locality in terra firme forest on the south bank of the Rio Napo which can be reached with comparative ease, only the last hour or so of the drive being along dirt road. The lodge is nowadays run on an ad. hoc. basis and only opened when there are guests. This is a big shame because it means staying there, which is basic but fundamentally OK is rather unpredictable. During our stay there was no water in the rooms which was no big issue as we only stayed one night and it is situated on a river but gives some idea of how things are there. It is also difficult to contact anyone there as far as I can tell. In my old age I would prefer a things a little easier were I to visit independently but I would be seriously tempted as the birding is fantastic.
Gareno was included on our itinerary principally to go after two species. It delivered quite a few bonuses in our all too short a time there. We arrived around three on a baking hot afternoon and whilst one of the guides from the lodge went in search of our main quarry we birded the roadside. It was very quiet and whilst we searched for our other main target species at a site which has previously held it I noticed a small amount of activity in the canopy some distance along the road. Some activity was better than no activity and we wandered up to check things out. After a short while working through the few birds we could see Martin began describing something which sounded very much like one species I had in the back of my mind all along, Purple-throated Cotinga. Jonás was thinking the same way and just as we got on to it the bird flew across the road giving good though frustratingly brief views. Among the other birds we dug out of the afternoon heat were Grey-breasted Sabrewing, Dugand’s Antwren and Yellow-backed Tanager. After an hour or so our guide returned with the news that he had located a day roosting Rufous Potoo. It was just a few minutes walk in to the forest and the light was fairly good as we watched the bird which was perched low down and swaying occasionally to mimic the motion of a dead leaf. It appears to be a genuine rarity though its preference for remaining in the forest interior will make it particularly difficult to locate unless vocal. It is certainly a stunning looking bird.
Rufous Potoo, Gareno. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.
Our key target species in the bag we retired to the lodge to sort out rooms etc. A dusk excursion in to the forest failed to find Ocellated Poorwill and as we walked back through the gardens a low booming call in the distance was quickly identified by Jonás as that of Nocturnal Currasow! The guides reckoned they were in an inaccessible area which was frustrating but it was something to hear them and they called periodically throughout the night, audible from the cabins. The following morning our second big target species, the stunning Firey Topaz was secured in the garden by the river. It was hard work getting views which allowed for appreciation of the glowing colours as the birds fed on insects which they caught in the air leaving them silhouetted. As they descended it was possible to see the colours against the green of the background foliage and eventually one perched up a couple of times though it didn’t allow too much time for admiration. A pair of Lemon-throated Barbets had provided distraction whilst we waited but once the Topaz show was over we headed for the road again. As we clambered out of the gulley notable inhabitants of the understorey were a very smart Yellow-browed Antbird and a flock of Fulvous-crested Tanagers
Fulvous-crested Tanager, Gareno. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.
The road was productive again with excellent views of a pair of Purple-throated Cotingas, a pair of Purple-throated Fruitcrows and a White-browed Purpletuft among the highlights and a supporting cast that included Ivory-billed and Many-banded Aracaris, White-throated Toucan, Grey Antbird, Opal-crowned and Yellow-bellied Tanagers. Back near the lodge the guides had found a day roosting Crested Owl which was low down, allowing better views than I had previously had of this spectacular species and understandably popular with those who had not encountered it before.
Crested Owl, Gareno. Photo by Jonás Oláh, Birdquest.
Good birds kept coming to the very end of our stay with a fruiting tree along the short walk back to the lodge attended by Brown-winged Schiffornis, Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin Blue-crowned, White-bearded and a stunning Western Striped Manakin.
Gareno is run by the Huaorani Indians and was once popular with visiting birders as a pair of Harpy Eagles nested there. Since then it appears visitor numbers have fallen away. This is a great shame as the birding is outstanding and the forest is being degraded. The road in is an oil road and there are checkpoints to prevent settlement on Huaorani land by outsiders. It appears however that settlement is nonetheless taking place. An upgrade of the lodge would I imagine bring in revenue for the Huaorani and focus attention on the forest and what happens there. It may not be unique but how many places can there be where visiting birders can listen to Nocturnal Currasow from their bed?