Dawn came an hour earlier at Cristalino Lodge. For some reason they did not follow Daylight Savings Time like everyone else in Mato Grosso. So, breakfast was at 430AM! Yikes, I didn't remember signing up for that. Luckily the coffee was good and the chocolate cake was better. Even though the clock said it was only 500AM when we finished it was getting light.
One of the big draws at Cristalino is the canopy tower. Standing at just over 50 meters, it has three levels allowing birding in the mid level of the canopy, right at the tops of the trees and above almost all of the forest. Canopy towers allow looks at birds and animals that would be almost impossible to see from the forest floor. The only other canopy tower that I had experienced had been in Rio Salanche Ecuador, which wasn't nearly as tall, so I was excited to see what this one was like.
We hiked the mile to the tower in a light fog. As we approached the tower and I looked up to the top my excitement turned to apprehension. This was a very, very, very tall tower! There were 22 flights of 9 steps. The steps were more like rungs on a ladder, very narrow and steep. Brad and Martin were birding a bit at the base of the tower. I told them I was starting up, as I would be slow. I was pleasantly surprised that it was not as difficult as I thought. I made it to the first platform pretty quickly. Then I looked down. "How the heck was I going to get down from here?" I thought. I have some vertigo and am a complete klutz. I wondered how long one could live on top of a canopy tower!
Martin and Brad came up and we spent some time birding. We saw a few birds, but the fog was making things a bit slow. We started up to the second level. There we got my favorite bird of the day, Striolated Puffbird. Puffbirds are great birds, squat chubby little guys with stout bills. They tend to be a bit laid back, sitting without fidgeting, which is exactly what this one was doing. He was right below eye level and gave opportunity for great photos. Of course to get great photos you have to be a great photographer! I am not that person. But in case you want to see him, here is a video clip. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sngcanary/3093433595/ Oh, there was not an earthquake when I shot this, despite the appearance.
We finally left that area and made the final climb. There was still some fog, which cut down our viewing substantially. The positive thing about the fog was it kept the insects down. Brad had warned us that the top of the tower could get uncomfortable with many bees for some reason. We still did pick up a few birds. A male Spangled Cotinga, a spectacular sky blue bird with a bright purple throat perched on a snag. A Ringed Woodpecker, a much wanted bird, flew by. Yellow-crowned Tyrannulets worked through the tops of nearby trees. Tooth-billed Wrens were singing, atypically for wrens, in the canopy. It was not a bad place to be.
Finally the sky cleared, it got hotter and the bees showed up. The tower wasn't quite as comfortable. At that height, there is some sway. You have to move slowly and carefully, or it gets a little hairy. Despite that, we were still having a good time. When the sun is hot, the birds become quiet, which happened a little quicker than we would have hoped. We decided to start down, which was something that had been nagging me in the back of my head since I had reached the top. I knew I would be even slower, so I got a headstart. I had to back down, as my big size 11 feet didn't fit on the stairs!
Before heading back to the lodge, Brad took us to a clay lick, often visited by birds and mammals to obtain minerals in their diets. Its a good place to see Tapirs. Unfortunately, the Tapirs and even the birds, were snacking elsewhere. What was there, though, was a huge number of butterflies! The whole area was fluttering with sulphurs, long-wings, swallowtails and other beautiful bugs. Martin even picked up a few dragonflies.
It was getting close to lunch time, so we started the mile hike back. We picked up a number of antbirds. One that we heard, but never got a visual on, was a Ringed Ant Pipit. The call of this bird sounded like it was saying "I'm a Ringed ANT PIPIT!", at least to me. Another bird that we heard only was a specialty bird of the lodge, a Cryptic Forest Falcon. This bird was recently split from Barred Forest Falcon and has a microscopic range.
After lunch and siesta, we headed back onto the river. I really loved the river birding everytime we went out! Almost immediately I got a life bird, a Sungrebe. This was another bird that caught my imagination the first time I saw it in a tropical field guide, so I was really excited. (We were shocked to discover when we returned to the states that the first record of Sungrebe for the United States occured during our trip). We also got a really good look at a Sunbittern, much more satisfying than the glimpse we had the day before. A Razor-billed Currosow flushed off of the river bank and flew up into the canopy. We didn't get a huge number of birds, but the quality far out shined the quantity.
We stayed on the river until dusk. Spectacled Caiman and Yellow-spotted River Turtles slid off the banks as we passed. A Tawny-bellied Screech-owl called Long-nosed Bats flushed off of logs they were roosting on. We were ready for dinner when we got back to the lodge.
Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
American Pygmy Kingfisher
Southern Rough-winged Swallow