by Tom Harrison
Caught up in the Millennial spirit, I set the goal of reaching 1,000 species on my life list by 1/1/2000.
July 1, 1999, my list stood at 901 and I knew I'd have to travel someplace beyond my Southern California neighborhood (and even beyond the ABA area) if I hoped to add the 99 species I needed. With no such trip on the horizon or in my budget, I began to wonder whether I could reach my goal of 1,000.
Then, as if an answer to prayer, a client asked me if I could attend a quick series of meetings in Brazil in mid-October. I jumped at the chance.
First of all, Brazil is farther than you think. The southern part (where I was headed) is darn near to Antarctica (hmmmmmmm -- maybe next time!). I left Los Angeles early Thursday morning, flew all day and changed planes in Miami. I then flew all night and arrived, groggy, in Sao Paulo at 7:00 Friday morning.
There was no time to think about jet lag or sleep: we headed straight for the office for an all-day meeting in downtown Sao Paulo, a huge metropolis of skyscrapers, great restaurants and about 16 million people. As we were leaving the airport, I spotted a Fork-tailed Flycatcher in flight as my first lifer of the trip along with Blue and White Swallows on a wire and a Southern Lapwing on the lawn. Three down, 96 to go. Not a bad start.
I've learned a valuable lesson over and over and over again that the best way for me to enjoy birding a new area is with an experienced local birder. So I was delighted when my friend Miguel LeCoq, who took me on a fabulous whirlwind birding tour of Portugal last spring, introduced me to his contact in Brazil. Professor Maria Aparecida from the University of Sao Paulo agreed to take me birding for a day in the Sao Paulo area.
Maria and her birding companions, Ricardo and Carlos picked me up bright and early Saturday morning and we headed to Cantareira State Park, a lush and expansive park in Sao Paulo. As soon as we jumped out of the car, I knew I was in the presence of masters as they quickly called out the names of a dozen birds in Portuguese, English and Latin as we heard exotic squawks from the surrounding trees. Tataupa Tinamou! Common Antshrike! What impressed me even more was the easy willingness they had in admitting they could not identify a flycatcher that was perched nearby. I've always found that the best birders aren't afraid to admit when they aren't sure of an ID.
The first species I actually saw there was a stunning pair of Surucua Trogons on a low-hanging branch just above us. They serenaded each other and gave us great looks. I was jazzed.
We drove to a pond in the park and I found myself quickly overwhelmed by the shear numbers of different species around us. It was dizzying. And exciting. We saw Rufous-collared Sparrow, Ashy-tailed Swift, Plumbeous Kite, Rufous-bellied, Creamy-bellied and Pale-breasted Thrush, Roadside Hawk, Scaly-headed Parrot, Masked Yellowthroat, White-browed Warbler, Crested and Chestnut-crowned Becard, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Blue Manakin, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Swainson's Flycatcher and Blue Dacnis.
Brazil is tanager heaven. In short order we saw Brassy-breasted, Sayaca and Ruby-crowned Tanagers (just three of the 13 tanager species I would see on this trip).
My new friends were especially enthusiastic when a pair of Ruffed Fruitcrows flew over the pond and landed on a nearby crag. These endangered birds are not an everyday sight! Nor are the Spot-winged Wood-quail which we heard calling from the reeds.
We hiked around the area and a local lady, seeing our binocs, alerted us that she had just seen a Dusky-legged Guan. We headed off in the direction she pointed while she imitated the birds call. Sure enough, two of these giants flew out of the tree ahead. Plus, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Violaceous Euphonia (I can just hear what W. C. Fields would do with that name!), Pale-breasted Thrush, Maroon-bellied Parakeet and two hummers: Violet-capped Woodnymph and Black Jacobin.
In all, our 90 minutes in Cantareira State Park netted me 33 species (my companions identified many more than that by ear which I didn't count). Of the 33 species, 30 were life birds for me.
Next stop: the coast. We drove an hour or so over the rainforest-covered mountain to the port city of Santos where we hoped to see a roosting spot for Scarlet Ibis. As we drove around the area, Maria, Ricardo and Carlos were amused by my excitement over Ruddy Ground-Doves which were about as common as Mourning Doves are for us back home, but were lifers for me. We also picked up Shiny Cowbird, Neotropic Cormorant, Gray-breasted Martin, and Smooth-billed Ani before arriving at the marina where we arranged for a small boat and driver to take us up the Quilombo River.
The pollution in the port area was disheartening. Rubbish floating everywhere and lining the shores. But soon my attention turned skyward as a Ringed Kingfisher buzzed us. White-necked and Little Blue Herons were abundant, as were Kelp Gulls (good thing since I never made it to see the one hanging out in Maryland this year). A pair of Amazon Kingfishers chased each other and, to round it out, we were treated to a Green Kingfisher as well.
As we left the harbor area and headed up river into the mangroves, the pollution lessened and the bird life increased. Tawny-headed Swallow, Yellow-billed Tern, Roseate Spoonbill, Magnificent Frigatebird, Rufous Crab-Hawk.
We never found the Scarlet Ibis, but we did land in the bush, walked around (never too far from the boat I might add) and were rewarded with great looks at Brazilian Tanager, Black-crowned Tityra, Yellow-legged Thrush, and a close-up study of a Yellow-lored Tody -flycatcher. I always like it when I get to see an endemic that's not even in the field guide (Collins) yet. And before the end of my Brazilian visit, I would see plenty!
On our way back down river, we saw Crested and Chimango Caracara and heard Little Wood Rail. As we docked after an excellent outing, a Swallow-tailed Hummingbird was at the marina feeder.
I bid farewell to Maria, Ricardo and Carlos, with the recognition that their warmth and hospitality had given me a wonderful first impression of Brazil and the Brazilians. Not to mention that my life list was now at the 952 mark.
Then it was back to work. On Sunday we flew to Belo Horizonte, an inland city of 4 million people about an hour north from Sao Paolo. There the warm hospitality (and great food) of the Brazilians continued to delight us. After three and a half days of productive and enjoyable meetings, I was picked up early Thursday morning by Regina Ribeiro, a local bird guide who proposed to take me to Caraça, a lovely wildlife area in the mountains about two hours by car from Belo Horizonte.
I should pause here to thank birdchat. I have met wonderful birders through our online community and this was no exception. Birdchatter Jim Danzenbaker got me in touch with a guide in Belo who was not available, but who, in turn, put me in touch with Regina. She was a terrific bird guide and an enjoyable traveling companion. And it was birdchatters Johnny Powell and Paul Blakeburn and Andy Whittaker who originally suggested Caraça to me. Obrigado!
Caraça is a gorgeous wildlife refuge (cost about $5 US to enter) famous for the endangered Maned Wolf. Its monastery, built in the 1700's, has been converted to an inn. It cost about $35US for each room (spartan but sufficient) and all the meals were included -- and quite good.
On the drive in we saw Chopi Blackbird, Roadside Hawk, Social Flycatcher, Yellow-headed Caracara, Picazuro Pigeon, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Cinnamon Tanager, and Dusky-legged Guan.
This is a birder's paradise. The gardens outside the monastery were host to a number of species including Great Kiskadee, Scaly Dove, Yellow-bellied, Double-collared and Dubois Seedeaters, Boat-billed and Cliff Flycatchers (on the church steeple), Green-winged Saltator, Velvety Black-tyrant, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Plumbeous Kite, Ruddy Ground-dove, Planalto Hermit, Tail-banded Hornero and Golden-chevroned, Palm, Burnished-buff and Magpie Tanagers.
After enjoying the garden, we headed down the front path, ticking off new species left and right as we proceeded. Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Highland Elainea, Common Thornbird, Yellow-bellied Elainea, Bananaquit and Planalto Tyrannulet.
The Tanque Grande trail was especially good. In fact, we birded it both Thursday and Friday mornings and saw Crested Oropendola, White-barred Piculet, Red-breasted Toucan, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Cinnamon-vented Piha, White-shouldered Fire-eye, White-lined, Brassy-breasted, Sayaca and Gilt-edged Tanager, Blue Manakin and Rufous-browed Peppershrike. We had fabulous close-up views of a Squirrel Cuckoo.
We were startled to spot a poisonous snake of the moccasin family on a low branch just off the trail. A number of birds took note of its presence as well, and in 15 minutes we counted 8 new species -- Swallow Tanager, Ochre-faced Tody-flycathcer, Variable Antshrike, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, Mottle-cheeked Tyrannult, Ochre-rumped Antbird and White-bellied Warbler -- chattering and hopping around the snake's bush. Aren't the bird names in Brazil wonderfully descriptive?
We continued on to the pond at the trail's end where we saw Plumbeous Pigeon, Sooty Tyrannulet,Streaked Flycatcher, White-browed Warbler, Scaly-headed Parrot and a remarkably cooperative Surucua Trogan.
Near the vegetable garden and pond behind the monastery we had Masked Water-tyrant, Blackish Rail, Yellow-browed Tyrant, Picui and Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, and Blue-black Grassquit.
In the picnic area along the river we added Long-tailed Tyrant, Striped Cuckoo, Short-crested Flycatcher and Rufous Hornero.
Two other trails were worthy of note.
On the Cascatona trail we enjoyed great looks at Grey-necked Wood-rail, Yellow-browed Woodpecker, Dusky-tailed Antbird, Blue Dacnis, Shear-tailed Grey-tyrant, Rufous-crowned Greenlet, White-winged Becard, Saffron Finch and the real treats: Serra Antwren and Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper. It was there that I saw my 99th bird for the trip and number 1,000 on my life list, Chicli Spinetail, although we did miss the Hyacinth Visorbearer.
On the Cascatinha trail we added a pair of hummers: Violet-capped Woodnymph and Glittering-bellied Emerald, Large-tailed Antshrike, and a couple of really special target birds: Hangnest Tody-flycatcher and Swallow-tailed Cotinga
After dinner we got close-up looks at the Maned Wolves who came up the church steps to be fed meatballs by one of the workers.
In just over a day at Caraça, we saw 100+ species. I would strongly recommend spending at least three days there. Maybe even a week. And I would strongly recommend Regina (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) as a guide.
As with all trips, I was glad to get home. But I must admit I can hardly wait for another opportunity to enjoy the birds and the hospitality of Brazil.
|Little Blue Heron
|Southern Rough-winged Swallow
La Cañada, California USA