Sunday, November 30, 2008

Brazil Day 3, We Rhea-lly Like this Place!

Morning came awfully early. Despite being a bit jet lagged I was anxious to get out, as there were a couple of big goal birds I wanted to see, and I do mean big! After breakfast we headed out into the cerrado.

We drove down a farm road where we had seen the Horned Sungem the day before, hoping to get a better look. We spotted a Pearl Kite, a beautiful little white and black raptor sitting on a utility line. We stopped to get a better look when a gutsy little hummingbird took a swipe at him, another Horned Sungem! I did get a slightly better look, though still not as good as I would like. Its ok, though, as it gives me a reason to go back!

Many birds popped up out of the brush, including Curl-crested Jays. Martin and I both like jays a lot, and these were pretty cool looking. Flycatchers were thick, with several species of Elaenia and the endemic Chapada Flycatcher. A Checkered Woodpecker played hide and seek with us, teasing us with his calls every time we looked away. We finally got a brief glimpse. Brad assured us it was a rather unattractive woodpecker, though I think he was just trying to make us feel better. We did get good looks at a White-wedged Piculet, a very tiny woodpecker relative.

The Checkered Woodpecker wasn't the only bird teasing us with song. We could hear several species of tinamous calling. Brad finally got a Small-billed Tinamou to make a brief showing using a tape. Its amazing to me that a bird as large as a tinamou can be so darn hard to see! In the distance we could also hear one of our "big" goal birds, Red-legged Seriema, Brazil's answer to the Secretary Bird. Unfortunately they were on the other side of a hill where we couldn't go. Brad said not to worry as we would be in better territory later in the day.

A Collared Crescent-chest began calling just down hill in a thicket. One of my favorite birds in Ecuador is the Elegant Crescent-chest. Crescent-chests are members of the tapaculo family, most of which are drab birds who are a pain in the neck to see. Crescent-chests are the exception, at least as far as drabness goes. We got down to the thicket and could hear the bird very close by, but couldn't get a glimpse. It was very frustrating! Brad continued playing the tape, sometimes lowering the volume and moving around a bit to mimic the movement of a bird. (Brad was more than skilled with tapes! We learned a lot) Finally our target popped up and gave us astonishing looks! We were more than pleased.

We had also seen several members of the toucan family, Lettered and Chestnut-eared Aracaris and Channel-billed Toucan. I really like this family. I had seen all three species in Ecuador, but was still happy. There was one Toucan that I wanted to see pretty badly. I said "What chance is there of seeing a Toco Toucan?" No sooner had the words left my mouth than we spied a Toco in a distant tree!

After leaving the farm fields we birded a nearby forest fragment. My favorite birds in this wooded area were three species of manakins,White-bearded, Band-tailed and Firey-capped. Manakins are tiny birds with some great behavior. They have unusual calls and display in leks. The Firey-capped was tough to find initially, but well worth it! We also had Pectoral and Saffron-billed Sparrows, both of which are really showy for sparrows.

We had accidentally kept a key from the Pousada, so we made a side trip back to return it. While zipping down the road I spotted a large bird in a field under a tree. My first impression was that it was a tall skinny Turkey. I later realized it was the Red-legged Seriema. We went to town for a great lunch and my only souvenir shopping. After buying a really tacky gift for my brother (I can't say what since he might be reading my blog and I haven't given it to him) we left for the farm fields where our two big birds were hopefully waiting for us.

The "biggest" target we had was the Greater Rhea, a relative of the Ostrich. We turned off of the main road onto a dirt tract through soy bean fields and in the distance we could see some very big lumps. Brad said "There they are!" We got the scopes out and sure enough there were several huge ratites in the field. It was hard for me to fathom something that big just running around in soy bean fields. Unfortunately the Seriemas were not so cooperative, so Martin has a reason to go back, too! We did get very close looks at the Rheas as we were driving out of the fields. Rhea puns were flying, but I will only use the one in the title.

Martin loves swifts. There is a fabulous overlook where they fly by on eye level. We were blown away by Biscutate Swifts, which are very large with a broken white collar. The view was spectacular, too. We had to catch a late flight to Alta Floresta for the next part of our trip, so we headed back to Cuiaba, stopping for a quick drink and an even quicker peak at a Cliff Flycatcher. We got back into town. Brad returned the rental car and we settled into the airport to wait for our flight. Martin alarmed some German tourists by hand catching a huge dragonfly in the terminal. For some reason they didn't want to see it! He got some photographs of it and we boarded the plane.

Day List
Undulated Tinamou
Small-billed Tinamou
Red-winged Tinamou
Greater Rhea
Great Egret
Cattle Egret
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Swallow-tailed Kite
Pearl Kite
Plumbeous Kite
Gray Hawk
Roadside Hawk
White-tailed Hawk
Yellow-headed Caracara
American Kestrel
Red-legged Seriema
Southern Lapwing
Rock Dove
Picazuro Pigeon
Pale-vented Pigeon
Ruddy Quail-Dove
Red-and-green Macaw
Blue-winged Macaw
Red-shouldered Macaw
White-eyed Parakeet
Peach-fronted Parakeet
Yellow-chevroned Parakeet
Blue-headed Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Smooth-billed Ani
Guira Cuckoo
Pheasant Cuckoo
Pavonine Cuckoo
Burrowing Owl
Striped Owl
Common Pauraque
Little Nightjar
Biscutate Swift
Cinnamon-throated Hermit
Swallow-tailed Hummingbird
White-vented Violet-ear
Black-throated Mango
Fork-tailed Woodnymph
Horned Sungem
Blue-crowned Trogon
Blue-crowned Motmot
Rufous-tailed Jacamar
White-eared Puffbird
Black-fronted Nunbird
Lettered Aracari
Chestnut-eared Aracari
Channel-billed Toucan
Toco Toucan
Bar-breasted Piculet
White-wedged Piculet
Yellow-tufted Woodpecker
Checkered Woodpecker
Campo Flicker
Lineated Woodpecker
Olivaceous Woodcreeper
Cinnamon-throated Woodcreeper
Buff-throated Woodcreeper
Rufous Hornero
Cinereous-breasted Spinetail
Great Antshrike
Barred Antshrike
Rufous-winged Antshrike
Rufous-capped Antshrike
Plain Antvireo
Large-billed Antwren
Rusty-backed Antwren
Collared Crescent-chest
Band-tailed Manakin
White-bearded Manakin
Fiery-capped Manakin
Sepia-capped Flycatcher
Chapada Flycatcher
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Forest Elaenia
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Plain-crested Elaenia
Lesser Elaenia
Rufous-sided Pygmy-Tyrant
Cliff Flycatcher
Gray Monjita
Tropical Kingbird
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Streaked Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Crested Becard
Masked Tityra
Purplish Jay
Curl-crested Jay
Rufous-browed Peppershrike
Red-eyed Vireo
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Rufous-bellied Thrush
Pale-breasted Thrush
Chalk-browed Mockingbird
Thrush-like Wren
Moustached Wren
House Wren
Brown-chested Martin
Gray-breasted Martin
Southern Rough-winged Swallow
House Sparrow
Yellowish Pipit
White-bellied Warbler
Flavescent Warbler
Grassland Sparrow
Pectoral Sparrow
Saffron-billed Sparrow
Black-faced Tanager
White-rumped Tanager
White-lined Tanager
Silver-beaked Tanager
Sayaca Tanager
Palm Tanager
Purple-throated Euphonia
Thick-billed Euphonia
Blue-black Grassquit
Plumbeous Seedeater
Buff-throated Saltator
Green-winged Saltator
Black-throated Saltator
Yellow-rumped Cacique
Chopi Blackbird

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Brazil Day 2, Into the Amazon.

We got up very early to head to the airport for our flights to Cuiaba, Mato Grosso, the gateway to the Amazon. Our flight was supposed to depart at 720AM. The first shuttle left the Marriott at 6AM and they assured us it would give us plenty of time. We arrived at the airport at about 620AM and got into the very long line to check in. We looked at the departure board and were stunned to see our flight had been moved up to 700AM. Since when do airlines move flights up??? We spoke to a security agent who kindly moved us to the front of the line.

I was beginning to relax when the gate agent told Martin he had to check his bag with his camera equipment, as it was too heavy. There had been a miscommunication on the carry-on luggage weight limit and he was way over. I seriously think if given a choice of me riding in baggage or the camera equipment I would have lost. We scrambled to rearrange our stuff, checked the bag now sans cameras and ran to our flight. We were the last to board.

Our flight to Brasila went off without a hitch. We made our connection to Cuiaba, where we were met by our guide, Bradley Davis. Brad is the son of Martin's boss and an absolutely incredible birding guide! I won't go into his skills now, as I will be telling more about them in my future posts.

We jumped into the rental car Brad has procured prior to our arrival and took off for Chapada dos Guimaraes, a very unusual area about 46 miles north of Cuiaba and home of a National Park. At first glance this area appears to be rather barren. It reminded me a bit of the brush country around San Antonio. There are areas of forest and some beautiful overlooks and cliffs. A number of birds unique to this habitat are found here. As we drove north it was obvious that we were in for some rain.

We arrived at a restaurant in the park just as the rain began. The walk from the parking lot was fairly short and the rain was still light at that point. We settled under the open air pavilion. Unfortunately the electricity was out, but they were able to grill some amazing beef for us. (There is a lot of beef in Brazil!) A beautiful waterfall was right next to the restaurant and we were able to spot a couple of different species of swifts and kingfishers. After lunch Brad called in a female Band-tailed Manakin and a Brown Jacamar. Despite the rain, things were going well!

We left the restaurant and headed into the "cerrado", a Savannah like area near the park. Birding was very good! One of our main goal birds for this area was Horned Sungem, a rather spectacular little hummingbird. At our first stop Martin spotted one feeding in a flowering bush. Unfortunately I saw the bird just as it took off. I was a bit let down, to say the least. The bird returned once, but I still only got brief poor looks. Oh well. We added a large number of birds to our life list here, including Peach-fronted Parakeet, White-eared Puffbird, Rufous Hornero, Chapada Flycatcher and White-bellied and Flavescent Warblers. The birding was fairly easy.

Our evening destination was a pousada (hotel) in the National Park. This small inn was very comfortable with an amazing view of the surrounding countryside. Large flowering trees in the yard had a number of hummingbirds. As dusk settled in Nacunda Nighthawks, which seemed huge to me, circled the pool. We had an wonderful dinner in the open air dining room. A Cane Toad shared the space, slurping up bugs attracted by the light. After dinner we walked the entrance road, easily finding Little and Scissortailed Nightjars. We settled in for the night and looked forward to another day on the cerrado.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Brazil! Day 1 Portuguese Doesn’t Sound a Thing Like Spanish!

Brazil, Portuguese Doesn’t Sound a Thing Like Spanish!

Day 1.

We just returned from a two-week trip to Brazil, birding the Sao Paulo area for half a day, then heading into the Amazon in the states of Mato Grosso and Para. The trip was extremely successful, with 500 species, including some heard birds. We loved the people and the lodges we stayed at, and both would go back in a heartbeat.

We landed in Sao Paolo on November 11 at about noon. Rick Simpson, a British ex-pat birder, met us at the airport and we immediately headed southeast to get our first trip birds. After a quick stop for some lunch, we stopped at a small marsh along the road. A few familiar birds were wandering around, Great Egret, Wattled Jacanas and Common Moorhens. I picked up two life birds very quickly, White-faced Whistling Duck and Brazilian Teal. Southern Lapwings, another new bird for me, foraged in the grass.

Rick pointed out a small rusty colored bird, which was picking around in the open. He said it was a Yellow-chinned Spinetail. I had seen a few different spinetails in Ecuador, but I had never seen one in the open like that. A White-headed Marsh Tyrant perched on a stick. Martin called out a Burnished-buff Tanager, one of my target birds for the day. Chestnut-capped Blackbirds fed in the sodden grass. I thought I saw a bird from home, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, but quickly corrected my ID to Fork-tailed Flycatcher, which were quite common. We heard the rattling call of a crake, but it stayed concealed in the tall grass.

We drove further down the road and parked in the yard of a small farmhouse. The woman who owned it came out to say hello. Rick uses her yard to park in quite often when looking for our target bird. She was very nice, but it was at that point I realized that our limited Spanish was going to be useless. It’s hard to believe both languages have the same roots! I got the phrase book out and learned a statement I would use many times, “Eu nao falo Portugues”, “I don’t speak Portuguese”. Most Brazilians will reply to this phrase “Not even a little?” It is an extremely beautiful language. Maybe someday I will try to learn.

The bird we had come to the farmhouse for was in a marsh across the road. We followed a well marked, albeit soggy, path to a clearing. Rick got out an I-pod and played a call. Very quickly a bird answered and we saw some stealthy movements in the reeds. Finally our target popped up, an antwren, which is either a variant of a recently described bird, or a new undescribed species. It’s a rather long story, which I won’t tell here, but what ever it turns out to be, it was really great to see it. Antwrens can be extremely difficult to see and this one gave us great looks. We hoped it would be a portent of antwrens to come.

A trail through some second growth forest was nearby, so we trekked that. Several species of thrushes were feeding in the trees. We picked up several tanagers, including Black Googled and Ruby-crowned. It was a good area for flycatchers. I spotted what looked like a huge White-winged Dove flying over. It was the first of many Picazuro Pigeons.

Heading back into Sao Paulo, we stopped again at the first marsh. Most of the same birds were present, along with a Yellow-rumped Marshbird, another neat ictarid. We heard the rattle again and were thrilled when the bird had the good graces to walk out in the open. Even Rick was impressed. It was a really lovely bird, a Rufous-sided Crake. We finished the evening with dinner and a good night’s sleep at the Marriott near the airport, where we would depart for the Amazon in the morning.

Day list.
White-faced Whistling-Duck
Brazilian Teal
Great Egret
Black Vulture
White-tailed Kite
White-tailed Hawk
Rufous-sided Crake
Common Moorhen
Wattled Jacana
Southern Lapwing
Rock Dove
Picazuro Pigeon
Pale-vented Pigeon
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Plain Parakeet
Ashy-tailed Swift
Rufous Hornero
Yellow-chinned Spinetail
Red-eyed Thornbird
Long-billed Antwren
Gray-hooded Flycatcher
Hangnest Tody-Tyrant
Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher
Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Olivaceous Elaenia
Bran-colored Flycatcher
Euler's Flycatcher
Masked Water-Tyrant
White-headed Marsh-Tyrant
Yellow-browed Tyrant
Shear-tailed Gray-Tyrant
Swainson's Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Streaked Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Red-eyed Vireo
Yellow-legged Thrush
Rufous-bellied Thrush
Pale-breasted Thrush
Creamy-bellied Thrush
Chalk-browed Mockingbird
White-rumped Swallow
Gray-breasted Martin
Blue-and-white Swallow
House Sparrow
Hooded Siskin
Golden-crowned Warbler
Rufous-collared Sparrow
Orange-headed Tanager
Ruby-crowned Tanager
Black-goggled Tanager
Brazilian Tanager
Sayaca Tanager
Burnished-buff Tanager
Blue Dacnis
Blue-black Grassquit
Yellow-bellied Seedeater
Double-collared Seedeater
Chestnut-bellied Seed-Finch
Green-winged Saltator
Chestnut-capped Blackbird
Yellow-rumped Marshbird
Shiny Cowbird