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August 2007

"A Tour with Hyacinth Macaw, many other birds, and a Jaguar!"


Hyacinth Macaw


Birds & Other Wildlife during our Brazil Tour - August '07  

A List & Photo Gallery of Brazil Birds, in 3 parts:

Part #1: Tinamous to Doves
Part #2: Macaws to Flycatchers  

Part #3: Antshrikes to Grosbeaks

Upcoming FONT Birding & Nature Tours in Brazil

The following narrative of the FONT Aug '07 Brazil Tour was written by Armas Hill, leader of the tour:

Brazil is a wonderful country in which to do a birding & nature tour. That is really true to say as our August 5-15, 2007 Brazilian tour was the 41st FONT tour conducted in that country since 1991. That's more tours than we've done in any other country in the world.

Brazil is a land of superlatives. Of course, it's well known that it's the largest country in South America. It's also known that it contains the largest river basin in the world, that of the Amazon. We've birded in Brazil as far north as the Amazon rainforest, and as far south as the open countryside of Rio Grande do Sul near Uruguay (not as well known as other Brazilian places, but truly a wonderful area to bird with many species present in large numbers).

During our August '07 tour, we did not go as far north as the Amazon, or as far south as Rio Grande do Sul, but we did, during 10 days, much of the Brazilian countryside in between, as well as many birds & some notable animals. 

Places that we visited included: 
1) southeast Brazil along the seacoast and in the Atlantic Forest in the Brazilian "mountains"
2) further inland in characteristic Brazilian habitats of Minas Gerais, including pristine grassland, and 
3) one of the best of Brazilian places for wildlife, the southern Pantanal in Mato Grosso do Sul. 

By visiting such diverse places, we saw over 300 species of birds - with a number of them notable.

There are nearly 200 species of Brazilian birds that are endemic to that large country. 
Some are very localized, such as the Black-and-gold Cotinga that we enjoyed seeing in southeast Brazil . 
Others are either rare or uncommon, such as the attractive Golden-capped Parakeet that we saw, further inland, in Minas Gerais.

In addition to the endemics, there are, especially in southeastern Brazil, a large number of "quasi-endemics", that is birds nearly endemic to the political boundaries of Brazil. 
Many of them are endemic to the geographic region of the Atlantic Forest, mostly in Brazil, but just spilling over a bit in far-northeastern Argentina. 
We saw a nice number of birds in that category, that is "Brazilian quasi-endemics". 
One, among them, was an attractive little bird with an odd name, the Black-capped Piprites.

Some of the places that we visited had odd names themselves. Actually, some Brazilian places have names that are unpronounceable to foreign tongues. But we did learn how to say "Itatiaia", as that place is one of the best anywhere, not just in Brazil, but in the world, for enjoyable birding.

Some of the splashes of color & the frenzy of activity
at the avian desert buffet in Southeast Brazil
(photograph by Dan Coleman during the FONT tour in August 2007)   

To begin with, many of the birds there, at Itatiaia, are colorful. They have bright colors, and some of them have as many as 6 or 7 colors. 
Their English names don't always tell the story. For example, the name of the Green-headed Tanager just refers to one color, of one part of the bird. There are, throughout, 7 obvious colors. 
It's the same with the brightly-colored Yellow-fronted Woodpecker. In addition to having yellow, it has red, and black and white, with all of the colors more than once in the bird's plumage.


A Yellow-fronted Woodpecker
photographed during a FONT tour in southeast Brazil, 
a colorful bird with more than yellow in its plumage.
(photo during the Aug 2007 tour by Rosemary Lloyd)

The bird feeders at the hotel where we stayed in Itatiaia, just outside of the windows of the restaurant, were, especially in the morning, a frenzy of activity and a splash of colors. 
(Inside the windows of the restaurant, the "human feeders" of buffets of hot food, cold food, and oh yes, those deserts, were also, at times, to be honest, a frenzy of activity.)
But, referring particularly to the multitude of bright colors at the bird feeders outside the windows, there were these:
throngs of toucans and tanagers, including the Red-breasted Toucan and Saffron Toucanet, and among the Tanagers: the  Golden-chevroned, Ruby-crowned, Black-goggled, Olive-green, Magpie, and the Green-headed, mentioned a moment ago.
Especially brilliant were the Blue-naped Chlorophonias, and  Chestnut-bellied Euphonias. They were often more than a dozen of each at once.

And there were the Hummingbirds: the Brazilian Ruby, the Violet-capped Woodnymph, the White-throated Hummingbird, the Glittering-throated Emerald, and the Black Jacobin, just to name a few.

Also there was the Rufous-capped Motmot, the colorful Yellow-fronted Woodpecker (already mentioned), and the Reddish-bellied Parakeet
Nearby, there were birds that ranged from the small House Wren to the large Dusky-legged Guan
Some birds, such as the White-throated Woodcreeper, didn't have much to say. Others, such as the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, did. 

Many of the birds were tame, even bold, as they visited the feeders. Saffron Toucanets and the various tanagers and hummingbirds were only inches away from us. Some birds, in the area, were shy, such as the Gray-necked Wood Rail, nearby, but never close.          

The mountains at Itatiaia are the highest in Brazil. That's one aspect of Brazil geography, however, that's not a superlative. Mountains in Brazil, although picturesque, are not high compared to others in the world. 

One morning, as we birded along a road at Itatiaia in a higher part of the mountains, we were treated to some very nice members of the avifauna there. Among them: 
the Red-ruffed Fruitcrow that flew right over us, and the Mantled Hawk and the Black Hawk-Eagle that were higher in the sky. 
Maybe the nicest of the birds we saw were the Diademed Tanagers that we got to know well. 
First we heard, and then we saw the Black-and-gold Cotinga (already mentioned). And there was that attractive  little bird (also already mentioned), the Black-capped Piprites.  
Another nice bird we saw well was the Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, a flycatcher, but looking much like the birds called white-eyes in the Orient.
The Serra do Mar, by the way, is the "Range of the Sea", covered with the Atlantic Forest, between Itatiaia and the ocean.

There was another bird we saw well that's named after that range, the Serra do Mar Neopelma. It's rather a plain bird, one may say. (In fact, we did say that at the time.) But it's an interesting member of the avifauna there, not just for being a Brazilian endemic, but because it's been kind of a misfit. It was once called a "Tyrant-Manakin", but a manakin it's not. It's now included in with the flycatchers. When it had the "Tyrant-Manakin" identity, its genus was Neopipo. Now, with its makeover, it's in a new genus, hence the name Neopelma.       

In the trees in that good forest, along that "higher road" at Itatiaia, there were other birds too. 
Quite common were two species of Warbling-Finches, the Bay-chested and the Red-rumped. The former is endemic to Brazil; the latter nearly so. 
Among the brownish birds, known collectively as "Furnariids" (we saw quite a few), there was the Sharp-billed Treehunter
Also, antshrikes and other antbirds were seen. An antpitta and antthrushes were also heard. 

The Rufous-browed Peppershike was both - heard and seen. The Rufous-crowned Greenlet looked a smaller version of the peppershike. 

In a way, the Uniform Finch doesn't look like much. It's a small, usually obscure, small gray bird that lives in the forest favoring bamboo. But because it's not often seen, we were glad to see it. 

Yet another bird, the Thick-billed Saltator, on occasion, when it is so inclined, showed itself. 
In all, many birds showed themselves to us during that fine day on the Brazilian mountain.      

When we were at Itatiaia, we were not far from the large Brazilian state of Minas Gerais
The next day we went there, further inland, to a particularly wonderful place called Canastra. That place, now a national park, is a grassland, atop a plateau. It is the way grasslands used to be throughout much of Brazil, before agriculture. 

A special place Canastra is, with Giant Anteaters, Maned Wolves, and birds such as tinamous and the very rare Brazilian Merganser, which feeds on small fish in the crystal clear water of the San Francisco River, near its source, on the plateau above a high waterfall. Unfortunately, during our visit in August '07, we did not see the merganser, as we have other times in the past. Our visit that time was too quick. We either needed more luck or more time, or both. 
We did, however, see the little fish, and numerous tadpoles, in the clear water of the river. It was good just "to be" at that wonderful place, during our short stay. 
By the river, there were pairs of both White-eared Puffbirds and brightly-colored Swallow-Tanagers that added their presence to the place. 

Please don't misunderstand, even without the very rare duck, we did see a number of extraordinary birds when we were in Minas Gerais, and especially at Canastra.  
The best among them was the distinctive Cock-tailed Tyrant. That species, pretty well restricted to natural grasslands, has recently been declining rapidly. It's a shame as the bird is a wonderful one to see, particularly the male with its odd tail, as it's perched on a snag and a waving piece of grass. 
The Cock-tailed Tyrant migrates to Canastra to nest, arriving there in August and staying through January. The birds we saw must have arrived at Canastra just about as we did, in mid-August.
Another small flycatcher of the grasslands that we saw was the Sharp-tailed Grass Tyrant, another threatened species.

In Minas Gerais, we saw yet another flycatcher that was great to see, the attractive Streamer-tailed Tyrant. We had seen it also a couple days earlier in southeastern Brazil, but it was good to see it again.

Minas Gerais was a good place for us for flycatchers of various sorts. Many flycatchers arrive in southern Brazil in August, coming from further north. 
We saw our only Fork-tailed Flycatcher of the tour (yet another flycatcher with a notable tail) in Minas Gerais. A week or so later they would be "everywhere" in southern Brazil.
Cattle Tyrants were on territory outside our lodging near Canastra. 
We saw both Velvety Black Tyrants and Crested Black Tyrants. The latter are rather reminiscent of Phainopeplas in western North America. 
Also in the area, in the flycatcher department, we saw many Monjitas. There were two kinds, the Gray and the White-rumped. The latter was more numerous.

"Numerous" was also the word, in relation to our August '07 tour, for the Red-legged Seriema. Never, during a Brazilian tour in the past, did we seen so many. And we saw them so well. Often they were close. One was "too close" when our vehicle almost hit it on the road.

A bird that did not stay close to us in Minas Gerais, at Canastra, was a fast-flying Aplomado Falcon over the grassland. But it was good to see the wild falcon as it was meant to fly. 

A sighting of a Scaled Chachalaca in western Minas Gerais was unusual. 
Sightings of the threatened Golden-capped Parakeet in Minas Gerais were wonderful. Earlier, I described that species as "attractive". That it is.

Other birds in Minas Gerais that we enjoyed seeing were: Toco Toucans, Curl-crested Jays, Tawny-headed Swallows, White Woodpecker, Cinnamon Tanager, Black-throated Saltator, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch,  and, one night, Nacunda Nighthawks as they were catching insects in flight by lights that shone at our hotel.


Toco Toucan & White Woodpecker

Maybe the best single food-item of our tour was in Minas Gerais. It was fresh pineapple, purchased in a small town by a gas station. Surely grown in that area, it was in Brazil, yes, but it was out of this world.     

The best single day of our August '07 Brazil tour was in one in Mato Grosso do Sul, that included a visit in the area of the southern Pantanal. During that one day, over 100 species of birds were seen. But it wasn't just the number of species that made the day the best.

We left the town of Campo Grande early in the morning, when it was still dark. We had planned to be at certain spot, by some cliffs, at 7:00am to see Hyacinth Macaws
During our previous tours, we had found these large macaws - the largest of all the macaws - in that area, and we found that they fly most often either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. 
We arrived at the appropriate spot just moments before 7 o'clock. Within 5 minutes, 2 Hyacinth Macaws were flying in the sky above us. 
Beautiful they were, the dark big blue birds against the background of a clear blue sky. At first the birds were quiet, but then they did make their loud, raucous calls. 2 more Hyacinth Macaws, another pair, came. The birds flew about for a while by the cliffs, and, as Hyacinth Macaws always are, they were quite a sight! 
And particularly so, when one thinks of how the Hyacinth Macaw, a threatened species, has been doing well of late. Its population seems to be holding its own, which is good, as a couple of its close relatives, the Glaucous Macaw and the Spix's Macaw, once common in decades gone by, have disappeared.  

Hyacinth Macaw

Also in the area of the Hyacinths, there were some large Blue-and-yellow Macaws. We saw them, both perched and flying. Earlier in the morning, we saw the Red-and-green Macaw
Later, during our morning drive, there was the Golden-collared Macaw
These macaws were in addition to an assortment of parakeets & parrots that day. 
The Parakeets were the Peach-fronted, White-eyed, Yellow-chevroned, and the Nanday, also known as the Black-hooded. The Parrots were the Turquoise-fronted and the Orange-winged.

It was just noted that the Hyacinth Macaw is the largest of the macaws. And it was noted earlier in this narrative that Brazil is a land of superlatives. 
During that one day, in that one part of Brazil, Mato Grosso do Sul, we saw the largest birds in a few categories. 
Along the road, we saw the Greater Rhea, one the largest of American birds, and one of the few that doesn't fly. 
We continued to see the Toco Toucan, the largest of the toucans. 
We saw the Cocoi Heron, the largest heron of the Americans, and the Ringed Kingfisher, the largest of America's kingfishers.  
And, lastly, then we saw, as of course we had planned to, the Jabiru, the largest stork in the world.  



In addition to the Jabiru, we saw another stork as we traveled west along the road into the Pantanal. It was the Maguari Stork. And, as we traveled, we began to see the Ibises of the area, including the Buff-necked and the Plumbeous.

Overall, as we traveled through Brazil, it became apparent how common the Southern Crested Caracara really is in that part of the world. Again and again and again, we saw them.

Raptors were seen at a number of the places where we were in Brazil, but they were most prevalent in Mato Grosso do Sul
In that area, Savanna Hawk, Black-collared Hawk, Snail Kite, Great Black Hawk, and White-tailed Hawk were commonly seen.
But not common was the Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle that was seen floating in the air above the fields at the ranch we visited in the Pantanal. That one bird was the first Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle that we ever saw during a FONT tour in the region of Mato Grosso.   

In the morning, as we were heading west toward that ranch in the Pantanal, there were so many birds along the road that it was hard not to stop, again and again. The Sun was behind us, and there was very little traffic that morning, so the numerous birds that were either on or by the road were wonderful. 
We enjoyed, in addition to the large birds already mentioned, such as the macaws, storks, and hawks, a number of the smaller birds too. 
Among them, particularly, we enjoyed the Plush-crested Jays, Red Pileated Finches, White-browed Blackbirds, and the first of the many cardinals we were to see.

The White-browed Blackbird is an example (like the Green-headed Tanager) of an oddly-named bird. It's true that it has a white brow. But the first thing one notices about it is not that, but rather its bright red breast. (There's another species in northern Brazil named the Red-breasted Blackbird, and of course, 2 species can't have the same name!)

The Cardinals that we saw either along the road, or later at the ranch in the Pantanal, were the Red-crested (aptly named), and the Yellow-billed (which actually appears most often to have an orange bill).

When we arrived at the large, and irrigated, ranch in the Pantanal, the big numbers of birds continued. Some of the birds were big themselves, such as the Southern Screamer. The most common bird of the rice fields was the Bare-faced Ibis. There were thousands of them.

Some of the birds we saw in those fields had just arrived there, having come, at about the same time we did, from North America. 
In that category were: American Golden Plover, both Yellowlegs, and Solitary, Stilt, and Pectoral Sandpipers.
The Golden Plovers were on a dike with Collared Plovers, the latter a Neotropical species, but a "new bird" for FONT in that part of Brazil.

It was 10 o'clock in the morning when we arrived at the ranch. During the couple hours or so before lunch, we planned to head out into the fields to see the many birds that were there. We did so in a vehicle traveling the dirt roads on dikes in the rice fields and in various other habitats. We were in that vehicle for only a short time, and all of sudden, there was a lot of Brazilian jargon on the radio. The guides and drivers at the ranch, in different vehicles, keep in touch with each other, particularly when something good, or extraordinary, is found. And that morning, just after 10 o'clock, something was! 
The driver told me "Puma"
I said "Go for it - we'll see these birds later."

A year earlier, when we visited the same ranch in the Pantanal, we saw a number of animals, but during a ride at night-time. 
We saw a few Ocelots, a Pantanal Cat, and even a Jaguar, standing and walking in the distance. But we didn't see a Puma. So this, I figured, would be a "new one" - and a "good one" to see.

However, when we got to where we had been directed, we were in for a surprise! 
As our vehicle pulled up behind the other one already there, where the animal was being seen, all of us were quietly able to get out of ours, on one side, and walk softly to the other vehicle, and then climb up on a ladder to where the viewing was good.
And there the animal was - in the tall grass. 
Yes, it was a large cat, but it was not a Puma. No, it was a Jaguar! Wow! It wasn't far away. We could easily see the spotted pattern on its back as it lay in the tall grass. And then, the big cat raised its large head, and looked at us (as we looked at it). Wow!   
To see a Jaguar by day, so well and so closely, was fantastic. And to think of how it was that we had simply driven into the ranch at 10am, and then climbed on to another vehicle, and then saw a Jaguar! Such a thought would normally be incredulous!        

I don't know why the driver said "Puma". The Brazilian word for the more massive Jaguar is "Onca". But I do know that the experience was thrilling, and I'm glad he said whatever he did.

The range of the Jaguar, throughout the Americas, is large. Normally, it occurs from Mexico to northern Argentina. There have rare occurrences in the Southwest US, mostly in Arizona. 
In some Central American countries there are more; in some, there are less. 
Belize, for example, seems to have more Jaguar sightings than let's say, Costa Rica. 
In South America, certain places in Brazil can be good - although, of course, usually there's more likelihood NOT to see a Jaguar than to see one. 
But where we were, in Mato Grosso do Sul, has to be one of the best places to see the magnificent animal, as we did during our tours there two years in a row!       

Jaguars are predators. According to some good books about them, one of their favored prey is the White-lipped Peccary
Later, during our day on the extensive property of the ranch in the Pantanal, and not far from where we had seen seen the Jaguar earlier, we saw peccaries.

We actually, at the time, were watching some birds at a pool of water, including Jabiru, Capped Heron, and others. Then, between us and the pool and the birds, a group of more than a dozen White-lipped Peccaries passed through, walking slowly from left to right. Among the group of peccaries, there were some very young ones.
Turning our heads from the baby peccaries, and looking up to the right, we could see baby Jabirus, with an adult, at a big nest up in a tree.     

Yes, we were having a good day.

Other birds, that made the day, were the always-attractive male Vermilion Flycatcher, and another flycatcher, actually another monjita for the trip, the White Monjita, and a Pale-crested Woodpecker feeding at a wasp nest.

Other animals were seen that day, too, in addition to the Jaguar and the Peccaries
It was wonderful to see the Giant Anteater. One cannot help but marvel how odd that animal actually is! 
We saw a group of Brown Tufted Capuchins, and in the marsh, there were the stately Marsh Deer, including a large male with a big set of antlers. 
And of course, there were Capybaras. They're easy to see. After all, it is the world's largest rodent.   

A Giant Anteater,
one of the mammals seen during our August '07 tour in Brazil.
(photo during that tour by Rosemary Lloyd)

At the end of the day, we certainly had a heap of memories - of, as noted, over a hundred species of birds, during that one day, and some mammals not soon to be forgotten. 
Probably, for all of us, our sighting of the Jaguar never will be - forgotten, that is!  

When we returned to southeast Brazil, before leaving the country, we were yet to see even more birds and animals.

We took a boat-ride in an area of mangroves by the seacoast. Particularly notable in that one specific area is the only population of Scarlet Ibis south of the Amazon region and the nearby northern Brazilian seacoast. They're as brilliant a red as Scarlet Ibises are, wherever they occur.

Another nice bird we saw in the mangroves was a small pale blue bird known as the Bicolored Conebill. A couple of them seemed to enjoy our company when we stopped the boat. 
A nearby American Pygmy Kingfisher was also nice, but more shy.

More Little Blue Herons than imaginable at a single place were there at that serene, beautiful marsh, only about a hour from the hustle and bustle of the big city of Sao Paulo. Being away from Sao Paulo surely makes that area a good place to be, and adding the Scarlet Ibises in to the mix, makes it even better.

Ubatuba is a another good place to be. It's along a beautiful stretch of seacoast, located right on the Tropic of Capricorn. The forests near that small coastal city have, in the past, provided us with good birding, and they did again, during our August '07 tour.

We saw many birds, and foremost among them may well have been the little White-bearded Manakins that were so actively displaying for us (or, more correctly, for other manakins) early during the morning when we were there.

Also early that morning, and even a while later, in the forest, there were flocks with a tropical cast of tanagers, flycatchers, antbirds, becards, and more.
In its bright attire, there was the male Brazilian Tanager
Also with red was the Surucua Trogon. It's part in the show was usually to be still. 
The trogon called, but the Gray-hooded Attila did more so. 
And the Bare-throated Bellbird gave the loudest call of all.

After we left Ubatuba, and we stopped for a while by a small river, in the forest in the hills above the seacoast, where we heard, for the last time, the Bare-throated Bellbird, and where we saw our last flock of colorful Brassy-breasted Tanagers
In the river, a group of Neotropical River Otters were frolicking.

Our tour in Brazil then ended.

In the future, there will be other FONT tours in that big country that's so good for birds and other wildlife. Having said that, however, it's probably safe to say that there will never be another tour quite like the one of August '07!   

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