Day eight found us making one last effort to get a good look at a Hyacinth Macaw. Right after breakfast, (by the way, one of the great things about Brazil is they consider it just fine to eat chocolate cake for breakfast) we piled into Carlo's truck and headed back to the ranches near the entrance to Rio Azul. We started at the spot where we had seen the macaws fly over on the way in to the lodge. We listened and scanned. Other macaws flew over, but no Hyacinths.
We drove a little way back towards the ranch, where we saw a Aplomado Falcon. Even more macaws passed us. There were several Burrowing Owls, a Red-breasted Blackbird and the ever present Grassland Sparrows. Brad sat up suddenly and said "Hyacinths!" We jumped out of the truck in time to see and hear the pair go by. They lit in a Brazil Nut Tree across the pasture from us. Carlo knows the owner of the ranch and said we could cross the fence. As we walked across the rough grass the macaws flew to a large dead snag and put on quite a show. There may have been a cavity in the tree. We were able to get a few pictures. None were great, but you can see what they are. Needless to say, we were really jazzed!
We drove back to the lodge and decided to try for the Plush-crested Jays one more time. We walked the entrance tract road, seeing even more hummingbirds than on our previous treks. A Rufous-throated Sapphire, one of the prettiest hummers of the trip, made an appearance. I also got a better look at a White-chinned Sapphire. They were very responsive to the pygmy owl tape. Tinamous were calling again. A Natterer's Antshrike skirted around us, finally giving decent looks. The best part was seeing several species of Manakins. Unfortunately we never did see the jays, despite bushwhacking deep into the brush. Its a bit hard to complain, though, after seeing Hyacinth Macaws.
We finished the morning in the clearing around the lodge. We were leaving after lunch and both of us felt a bit sad. We found the lodge, the family, the habitat, the birds, the butterflies and even the fish in the lagoon very pleasant indeed. The warmth that we felt there was something unique. Ivana, the matriarch of the family, cooked the most amazing meals and always glowed when we raved about them. Her desserts, in particular, were excellent. During our stay we had fresh fish from the river, really great beef cooked several ways, black beans and rice, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and one of our favorite things, yucca, called manioc there. I know I gained at least five lbs.
After lunch we all lingered in the dining room, not really wanting to leave. Ivana brought us a little tupperware container with some homemade Brazil Nut Sweets. She told us through Brad that we could take them back to the states with us. (Don't tell her, but they didn't last 24 hours!) Carlo brought me a big soft ball size coconut looking thing. He explained through Brad that it was a Brazil nut. Now, I know what a Brazil nut is! I have eaten them all my life. This didn't look a thing like a Brazil nut. Then he brought out another one, but this one had the top sawed off. Inside, arranged like orange sections were what I think of us a Brazil nuts! I had no idea that they grew that way. The outside shell is so hard only one animal, the Agouti, a huge rodent, can open them.
Finally we got our luggage together, and piled it in the truck, covering it in plastic, as it looked like rain. We had a long very rough drive ahead of us to get to the departure point for Cristalino Lodge. The road from Alta Floresta is rough. The road to the Teles Pires River landing is even rougher. It was about a four and half hour slog, including a few birding stops.
Speaking of birding stops, there was a Grey-breasted Crake calling loudly in some high grass on the side of the road. We stopped and played a tape. The crake became totally silent. We waited a bit and decided to move on. Carlo started the truck and the crake immediately started in louder than ever. Carlo stopped the motor. The crake shut up. We had pretty much pin pointed where the bird was. Brad got out of the truck and said he would flush the bird. He had on shorts and the grass was a bit prickly. He started in and jumped up in the air. It is impossible to describe how he looked, but I wished I had my video camera on. The crake never showed.
The ride was not without incident. We were bumping along a rutted clay road, when as we were coming into a sharp curve, a man on a motor bike came around from the opposite direction, heading straight for us. Carlo dodged, as did the biker. I was certain we were going to have a head on. The biker did miss us, but unfortunately took a spill in the ditch. We stopped and Carlo and Brad ran back to help him. Luckily he was not injured. After a bit of work they got the bike started and we all headed on our way. It could have had a very bad ending.
After crossing on the ferry again, we finally reached the river landing. The only way to get to Cristalino Lodge is by river. Fransisco, one of the pilots from the lodge, was there to meet us. We loaded all of our gear on the boat, bid very fond farewells to Carlo and set off for the lodge. It was a bit more pleasant than being jostled half to death on the rutted clay roads.
When we got into the main river channel we heard something shrieking like a banshee. "What the heck is that?" I yelled over the motor. Francisco yelled back "Giant Otters!" and he started shrieking back at them. There were three or four of the huge otters swimming near an island in the center of the river. They called back. I was totally blown away. First of all, this was one of my most wanted mammals. Second I had no idea otters could make those blood curdling noises. I guess I imagined them making little snuffly sounds or something.
We skimmed the shore of another island and Brad called in Amazonian Tyrranulet. A Capped Heron was feeding on one bank. As we passed a sand bar we got a great look at a Pied Lapwing. A Sun Bittern flew up under some heavy branches. Unfortunately I got a very poor look at it. Brad said we should be able to find another on the river during our stay. The trip up river took about a half hour. I kind of hated for it to end.
We passed the beautiful swimming dock of the lodge, and pulled up on the bank. Martin, Brad and I disembarked and headed up towards the lodge. One of the guides at the lodge packed our gear on the trailer of a little tractor and took it to our cabana. Just as we reached the clearing Brad heard a Long-billed Woodcreeper give its mournful call. We were able to get on it fairly quickly. Its an amazing looking brown bird with a HUGE long bill. It was hard to figure out how he ate with it. The bar tender came out and handed us some luscious fruit drinks, garnished with mimosas. I could see that despite the jungle, this was a very civilized place.
Our cabana was located in the third clearing. We had been given one of the upgraded rooms and it was beautiful! It was screened in with linen roman curtains for privacy. The ceiling was vaulted with a huge fan. The bathroom had a long teak counter top with a very modern raised bowl sink. The bath amenities were presented on a huge banana leaf. The absolute best part of the room was the shower. There was an indoor shower with glass doors that opened on to a patio with a wooden screening fence. On the patio was an outdoor shower. It all seemed very decadent! The water was solar heated, so it was always quite hot. Martin said the shower was better than any he had ever used, even in four star hotels.
We went up to dinner and met the other people staying at the lodge. Only one was a birder, a very nice English fellow who did not want to talk birds. His theory was if someone saw something the other person wanted it might cause jealousy. It was a bit different than other birders we know, but we abided by his rule. The other guests were from Germany and Sweden. An ex-pat American was there working as a translator for Roger, the Brit. Almost all of the staff only speaks Portuguese. The dinner was very good. I bought a bottle of Brazilian wine and shared some with Brad. It was a great end of the day. Oh, one more thing, the Brazilian wine was not the best South American wine I have drank. Next time I will stick with Argentinian or Chilean!
Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
Southern Rough-winged Swallow