I felt a real sense of sadness as we woke for our last day of birding in Brazil. We were taking a boat back the road to be picked up that afternoon. In some ways it felt like we had been there for a very long time, much longer than two weeks. Those of you reading my blog probably feel the same! We had been almost totally without outside communication for the entire trip, other than a brief period when I was able to get online at the Floresta Amazonica. It was wonderful to be able to forget the economic situation and all of that mess. I didn't even know the latest on Brittany Spears! (Thank goodness)
We put the sadness behind us and took off down the river for the Brazil Nut Trail. The weather was a bit threatening, but we had our rain jackets and had become acclimated to birding in the usually light morning rains. One of the first birds we heard had a rich beautiful complicated song. It was the kind of bird song that stops you dead in your tracks. It was a Southern-nightingale Wren. Brad got out the I-pod and again demonstrated his skill. It took quite a while, but we finally got decent looks at it. He then tried to draw in a Musician Wren, another amazing singer, but with no luck.
A Rufous-breasted Hermits checked us out. A Tapajos Hermit also gave us the once over. Hermits are rather plain colored hummingbirds with long decurved bills. We had seen several different species on this trip. The rain seemed to be getting heavier and the bird activity lighter. We pushed on.
We came to the end of the trail, where there is one of the biggest trees I have ever seen, a massive Brazil Nut Tree. (Maybe this is why the trail is called the Brazil Nut Trail!) We stood under the tree as the rain got heavier. The thick canopy was providing a pretty good shelter. We noticed our boat pilot Algirio talking to Brad in a rather earnest manner. Brad turned and said "Lets go back to the boat, we are going to wait out the rain at a farm on the island". We had visited this island earlier in the trip. We were a bit puzzled, as we thought we were fine under the tree. Brad explained that Algirio told him that it was the season that the Brazil Nuts fall from the trees. We were more than happy to move, as a hit on the head from a Brazil Nut could be fatal. I mean, how embarrassing would that be for Martin, to come home and explain that I had been killed by being hit on the head with a Brazil Nut! (If you have not read my earlier blogs I explain what Brazil Nuts look like in Day 8)
We motored up river to the island where a small farm house stood near a Cashew orchard. We got out and walked up to the house, where the residents, who knew Brad and Algirio well, offered us small cups of a wonderful hot sweet coffee. We sat under the porch waiting for the rain to slow. There were some chickens which I watched for a while. At least they were birds! Finally the sky lightened and the rain slowed to a drizzle. A few birds flitted in the Cashew trees, most the ever present Silver-beaked and Palm Tanagers. Tropical Kingbirds were flying from snag to snag. We could hear a Cinnamon Attila calling.
We decided to head back to the river and take a slow trip back to the lodge. We said goodbye to our hosts and got back into the boat. The rain was almost over and it was really pleasant. The regular river birds were in good numbers, with Green Ibis, a Rufescent Tiger-heron, a Razor-billed Currasow, Neotropical Cormorants and Anhingas either flying over or feeding on the banks. White-winged and Band-breasted Swallows zipped by, low over the water. From time to time the scent of blooming flowers was almost overwhelming. It truly is a very sensual place.
As we were skirting the river bank Brad jumped to attention and told Algirio to stop and go back. He had heard a call that needed to be checked. We were thrilled to see a female Crimson Topaz, the "star" hummingbird of Rio Azul! This species had never been documented at Cristalino. She gave us good looks and Martin was able to photograph her. She made dealing with the bad weather totally worth while! A flock of Scarlet-winged Parrotlets flew by and we were more than content. We arrived back at the lodge a bit earlier than expected, but we still had packing to do, so that was fine.
After we got our gear together Martin and I wandered around the lodge clearings. Martin was still keen to find more dragonflies and I just wanted to drink in every last drop of Cristalino. Martin got out the door of the cabana a few minutes before me. When I went outside I heard some familiar sounding call notes. I spotted a Masked Tanager, one of my favorite tangaras, in a tree right next to the porch. There were several other birds with him, but unfortunately just as I saw the flock they flew deeper into the woods, where I could not follow. Brad had told us that sometimes mixed flocks worked the trees in the clearings, so I hoped they would return to an area where I could see them.
I walked down towards the dining room and saw Martin. The flock had circled around and he was watching a xenops which was a different species than the Plain Xenops that we had seen several times. Martin got off several pictures before it flew off. From the photos he was able to confirm that it was a Slender-billed Xenops, a new bird for both of us! More tanagers moved through, including a White-shouldered Tanager, which was new for the trip. Mixed flocks are always exciting. You never know what you are going to see! We heard the double bell that they ring at the dining room announcing meals, so we walked up. The minister of tourism was still there, so the food was even better than usual.
After lunch a group of people, including the tourism minister left the lodge. We were due to be picked up at the road after them, at 330PM. Brad was a bit uneasy, as the phone was down at Cristalino and had been for 4 days. He was concerned that there might be some confusion about when we were to be picked up. He told one of the employees of the lodge, who was leaving with the minister, to let them know at the Floresta Amazonica that we needed picking up when she got there. Thank goodness he did this!
At about 230PM we decided to go ahead and go down river to the pick up point, as we could bird that area for a little while. Our plan was to stop on the way back to Alta Floresta for a little birding before dark at a place with Point-tailed Palm-creeper, which we both really wanted to see. We got to the landing and it started to rain again. Our luggage was covered with plastic and there was a small shelter, like at a bus stop, where we sat. The expected pick up time came and went. We started to feel a bit nervous. We debated about what to do. The phone was still dead at the lodge, so going back would do no good. Algirio took the boat across the river to where the head guide was leading a group. He told him that we should just wait, so we did.
The rain had stopped so we walked up and down the road and did some birding. Brad was very happy to show us a Short-tailed Pygmy-tyrant, which is thought by some to be the smallest passerine in the world. (It depends on how you measure the bird) An adult was feeding a begging juvenile, which inspired a sense of "Oh how cute!", even though I constantly say birding isn't cute. Finally we heard a distant truck approaching. We were saved! The driver was only two hours late. He should have left Alta Floresta long before the minister and his group got back there. So, when they arrived and the mistake was discovered it took some time to recover.
We stopped at the grove with the palm-creepers, but it was dusk and there was no sign of them. We did see many Burrowing Owls and Smooth-billed Anis along the way. The seem well adapted to the cleared pasture land. We got back into town and were dropped off at the hotel. Brad went home and got Jessica, his wife, and they came back to take us out for Brazilian pizza. We drove into the center of Alta Floresta and it was so weird to see lit Christmas decorations in that tropical atmosphere. Snow men and pine trees seem a bit out of place!
We were delighted to find all of the Ivani and all of her kids from Rio Azul at the pizza place. They were staying in town and Brad invited them to join us. They told us that they would really miss us. I was so touched! The food was good and the company was even better. I almost cried when we parted. By the way, the only thing Brazilian pizza and American pizza have in common is the crust. It was so different, but just as good.
We had an early start the next morning. Our flight to Sao Paolo was in three legs. It was supposed to depart at 530AM, so we left the hotel at 430AM after more chocolate cake for breakfast. We noticed it seemed a bit foggy, but not too bad. The plane was packed. I noticed three nuns sitting right behind us. I whispered to Martin "Oh, oh. We are in trouble now. In every movie I have ever seen with a nun on a plane things always go very badly..." These words came back to haunt us.
We waited and waited and waited. The fog seemed thicker. They announced over the speaker that we were delayed because of fog. I watched out the window, keeping track of a tree that I could barely make out in the mist. I kept checking it, to see if the fog was getting any better. As that tree became more visible, I found another one further out, and then another. I kept saying to Martin that it didn't seem that bad. He reminded me that the plane could probably take off, but if something went wrong it might be too thick for it to land again. I settled down. Almost two hours later we taxied out and took off.
We landed in Cuiaba and about half the people got off, including two of the nuns. We hoped that the plane would be a bit less crowded on the next leg. We were wrong. They boarded at least as many people. We took off without any problems and flew on to Brasilia. We landed and repeated the same unboarding and boarding, with things being just as crowded. The one nun remained in the seat behind us. We started our last leg on to Sao Paolo, a bit late, but some we had made up some of the time lost to the fog.
One of the flight attendants announced in both Portuguese and English that we were approaching Sao Paolo. I was watching out the window with great interest. We didn't appear to be getting any lower. I thought I saw some forest that I had seen before. We flew and flew. Then the pilot came on and made an annoucement in Portuguese only. I thought he probably was saying we would land in 15 minutes or something like that. We flew on, still not descending. I was certain that we were circling. Then he made another announcement in Portuguese. The passengers all seemed to be concerned and were talking among themselves. It was a very disconcerting feeling to have no idea what was happening. We couldn't ask the flight attendants, as they were strapped in for landing. Still the plane circled.
Martin said he was worried. There seemed to be a lot of high cumulus clouds building into thunderheads. He thought we might be diverted to another airport. Our flight back to Dallas left at midnight. We had time, but if we were at another airport.... Then we started wondering if there was something wrong with the plane and they were circling to burn off fuel. I remembered the smart aleck remark about nuns on the plane and couldn't help but feel a bit queasy. Finally Martin asked if anyone could speak English. A very nice young woman that had gotten on the plane in Brasilia said that she did. She explained that there was no place to park the plane in Sao Paolo, so we were waiting. We felt a huge sense of relief. Shortly after that we finally did descend. The same young woman helped us find our luggage and the bus we needed to take to the other airport. It was a huge relief!
We had flown into one of the smaller airports in Sao Paolo, so we had to get across town. Brad had suggested the airport bus. It was great! It was roomier than the plane had been and didn't circle over and over. We even got a few birds from the bus. My last life bird for Brazil was a Pinnated Bittern in a wet land we drove through. I also picked up Whistling Heron. We got to the main airport, took a day room at an in airport hotel, got three hours sleep and hopped the plane home.
Martin and I both said that this was our best birding trip ever! Having Brad as a guide freed Martin to enjoy the birds and bugs. He is a great guide, but its so much work. We are ready to go back. If you have any questions about our trip or are interested in setting something like this up for yourself, please email me! Sngcanary@yahoo.com I hope you enjoyed reading this half as much as I enjoyed writing it!
List for both days
Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
Southern Rough-winged Swallow