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.