Day seven revealed a phenomenon I had hoped to see on our earlier trips to the tropics, but had not. Its one of the most misunderstood happenings in the tropics. Those of you who remember the old Charlton Heston movie, The Naked Jungle will be familiar with the cry "Marabunta!" This movie did a lot to spread the misunderstanding. The phenomenon that I am speaking of? Army ant swarms.
Army ants have a very structured society. The colony will set up bivouacs in a hollow log, a hole or other similar shelter. They will feed in the area and settle in for a while. Then the entire colony will go on a raid. They pack up the queen, larva and eggs and spread out in a huge wedge, consuming other insects in their path. These wedges pass through forests mostly, but they can come across lawns and even into houses. What they do not do is consume heavy set men in boats, like in the movie. People in the Amazon actually welcome them, as they will clean out undesirable insects.
So, why would a birder want to see army ants? The answer is birds! There are a group of birds who follow the army ant raids. They are called antbirds, antwrens, antshrikes, antpittas, etc. So, these birds must eat the ants, right? That is another misconception. They actually do not eat the ants, but feed on the fleeing insects and other invertabrates. Some of these birds are very dependant on the ants and without a swarm they are almost impossible to see. It can be quite a show! Birders in the tropics always hope for an ant swarm.
We were walking a path at Rio Azul when we noticed some army ants running across a clearing. Birds started popping up. It was difficult to keep up with them. Brad was calling out birds, Martin and I were seeing other birds. I said "What bird has a brown back and a black head?" Brad was preoccupied for a moment, then his head shot up and he said "Bare-eyed Antbird!" This was another major goal bird. We had thought that we would have the best chance at Cristalino, but here it was. We relocated it and got decent looks. Unfortunately we were unable to get photos. Its a great looking bird with a whopping great white-eye ring.
We had a number of other antbirds, including Black-spotted Bare-eye, Black-faced Antbird, Spot-winged Antbird, Grey Antwren and Scale-backed Antbird. One bird which rivaled the Bare-eyed Antbird was the Chestnut-belted Gnatwren. I was also pleased to get was Long-billed Gnatwren. By the way, army ant bites do hurt like crazy! I was trying to video tape some on a log and got too close. That being said, our fire ants are worse.
We left the swarm to go have lunch and supposedly siesta. Instead I spent most of the rest time photographing the incredible butterflies around the lodge. I am still processing photos, but I have posted some of my pictures. This link is for the butterfly set.
I am still adding pictures to the set, so check back for more later.
We returned to the entrance tract in the late afternoon. It was a bit slower, but we still saw a good number of hummingbirds. This area had some nice blooming plants. Black-throated Mangoes were particularly common. We saw Grey-breasted Sabre-wings, White-chinned Sapphires, Long-billed Starthroats, Green-tailed Goldenthroats and many Fork-tailed Woodnymphs. South American hummingbirds have some of the best names.
Every time we walked the entrance tract we would hear the deep unmistakable cries of several different tinamous. We heard five different species at Rio Azul, some of them quite close. We never saw a single one. Its a frustrating family. The weird thing is they are big birds! Its amazing that they are so invisible.
As the day dwindled macaws and parrots started flying over. We had a great day with them with five species of macaws and eight species of other parrots and parakeets. I never quit catching my breath when I saw Scarlet Macaws fly across the sky. I also loved the White-bellied Parrots, cute little guys with brilliant yellow heads, bright green backs and, of course, white bellies. Seeing all of these brilliant birds was a great way to end the day. By the way, the food was still great! (Someone asked me to write about the food, I will in a later post)
Greater Yellow-headed Vulture