Hot And Steamy Birding In Brazil Wildlife Paradise June 2008

Hyacinth Macaw Pantanal

A huge bright blue parrot just wonderful - Hyacinth Macaw!

This hot and humid weather here in the UK got us thinking back to similar weather in Brazil. Here is an extract from our book "The Biggest Twitch" about the start of our Brazil adventures back in 2008. This is the un-edited version so a little different from the published book, hope you enjoy the read...

Our last experience in Finland had been wading through snow up to our thighs in a blizzard not seeing Ptarmigan. So it was quite a shock setting foot into the humid heat of night time in Sao Paulo, Brazil. After the long trans-Atlantic flight we were tired, dehydrated and hungry. The flight had been uncomfortable, the food rubbish and we had slept very little. Our adventures in northern Europe had been great fun but the twenty-four daylight had meant that the pace had been relentless and we were now feeling it. We were nearing the half-way mark of The Biggest Twitch and right at that moment we felt exhausted, what would another six and a half months of this feel like? The good news was that our bird total stood at a very healthy 2,304. If we scored well here in Brazil we would be on track to break the world record, which if you remember stood at 3,662, we were over half way there with less than half of the year gone.

Bilmey! It was a nightmare scene inside the airport, a heaving mass of humanity and seemingly no order, everyone pushing to get somewhere and going no-where. How we would we find our luggage in this? If we did how we would find the right desk for our onward flight towards Campo Grande our destination far inland. We had already been travelling for over twenty hours and we were not in the mood for this chaos. But this was South America and we were hardly surprised, we had seen it before, so with a sigh and a shrug of resignation we waded into the fray and pushed with the best of them. We retrieved our luggage and some how fought our way to the Tam Airlines counter and checked in for our next flight. After over four hours of queues and hassle it was a relief to climb above the sprawling city of Sao Paulo with its endless slums and millions of people, any airport is stressful but this one takes the prize so far this year, but we made it and now could start to look forward to what lay ahead, the vast wilderness known as The Pantanal. Our flight took us across a huge chunk of this enormous country as we headed west, inland, crossing vast areas of land once forested but now given over to cattle or Soya bean production.

At last our little plane touched down, rather unsteadily, at Campo Grande, a city known as the gate way to The Pantanal. It was wonderful to see our friend, and guide, Fernanda Melo smiling warmly at the arrivals gate. Thankfully Fernanda realised that we would be pretty shattered and whisked us away to a nearby hotel to dump our bags and have a quick wash, it’s amazing what a bit of hot water and soap can do for you! Even better lunch was on the itinerary.

Then we hit the local park, the great thing about that first day in a new country is just about every bird you see is new, no exception here we were soon ticking off plenty of wonderful new birds. It was a little strange, having known Fernanda a while this was the first time we had been birding together. All our meetings had been confined to the Bird Fair where we talked birds but did not watch them! It was quickly apparent that this girl knew her birds; she was birding fast by sight and sound, confidently calling new birds thick and fast, just what we had hoped for. Then we saw it, one of our most wanted birds of The Biggest Twitch, and it did not disappoint. A Toco Toucan flew in and landed on a dead branch in full view bathed in sunshine. Our mascot species on our list! What a bird, a massive yellow-orange bill looking almost like someone had stuck a banana on the bill of a Jackdaw! One of the coolest birds ever. But there were lots more we added eighteen new birds in a few hours birding around the city parks. Nothing could knock our Toco Toucan off his bird of the day perch but there was little doubt who was runner up, Helmeted Mannakin. Not much bigger than a sparrow this jet black bird sported a crimson red crown and nape; the feathers above the tiny black bill were modified to form a protruding horn like a miniature rhino! We finished the day on 2,304 species.

Fernanda may be female, pretty, friendly and great fun but she was a guide that had been trained by Tropical Birding in Ecuador so it was a very early start on day two. As dawn arrived we were on the out skirts of Campo Grande parked on a dual-carriageway watching spectacular Blue-and-yellow Macaws, as we were spell bound by these huge parrots. We amassed an amazing forty-four new birds in this way, just a brilliant days birding. Highlights? Whew! Hard to decided with so many great birds. One that has to be mentioned is the bizarre and beautiful Frilled Coquette, a tiny hummingbird with orange crest and iridescent plumage, a gem of a bird. I particularly enjoyed the Steamer-tailed Tyrants that displayed over a marsh and the gang of noisy Curl-crested Jays that worked across a wooded field gabbing grubs from the ground, then flying to a fence post to batter the prey to death on the post. As we crossed a vast grassland plain we encountered two more super birds, Greater Rhea, Brazil’s answer to the Ostrich and almost as big and Red-legged Seriema, a long legged kind cross between a bustard and a stone-curlew. But a mammal stole the show here, our first encounter with a Giant Anteater! What a creature, they really are big, and hairy, and have the most amazing long snouts, powerful front legs armed with huge claws which are held tucked back off the ground so not to blunt them. These lethal looking implements are used for breaking and entering at termite mounds so the animal can insert its long sticky tongue and hoover up the contents.

What a wonderful animal, the giant anteater, The Pantanal is a paradise.

Finally after a long drive with an over-load of wildlife we reached our destination and what a destination it turned out to be. Fernanda had often told us about a magical place in the heart of the Pantanal wetland called Caiman Lodge, well now we were here and about to see it for ourselves. Progress along the entrance track was almost impossible, the place was heaving with birds. A flock of two hundred Nacunda Nighthawks lifted into the air and swirled over a grassland right next to the car, this alone would have been amazing but there was so, so much more. Plumbeous and Bare-faced Ibis fed in roadside ditches, Whistling Heron waded through shallow pools and perhaps best of all meter long royal blue Hyacinth Macaws swept overhead, had we died and gone to heaven? It certainly felt like it! With dusk approaching we finally made it to the lodge that was to be our base here in the Pantanal. We were delighted when we saw what a stunning place we had arrived at. This was five-star luxury, our room over-looked a large lake and was beautifully decorated and contained everything we could possible need. The staff were just lovely, so friendly, so helpful and so knowledgeable; we were going to just love Caiman! Then came the food, we were amazed at the quality and quantity of the splendid food here, we were miles and miles from the nearest shop yet each meal was just wonderful, we were being spoilt rotten and loving it!

We had been told of a Common Potoo roosting in a nearby dead tree but sadly not at home, but we did come away with Great Rufous Woodcreeper and Chotoy Spinetail, not bad for a dip! As we drove the track back towards the lodge a Crab-eating Fox appeared ahead of us, we stopped to watch this attractive animal and soon realised he was watching something. The fox’s attention was directed towards the forest edge, we waited, then saw a movement, just for moment we thought Jaguar! But no it was to small, an Ocelot, still a beautiful cat, marked very like a Jaguar. The view was brief but the fox was still looking so we waited and the Ocelot calmly walked out of the trees and strolled across the track in front of us!

Scarlet-headed Blackbird well worth leaving the lunch table for!

This had given us an appetite and we treated ourselves to lunch at the nearby lodge rather than the usual packed lunches of recent days. Our meal was twice interrupted by the guides sitting on the deck outside the dinning room, first they found a Black-bellied Water Tyrant sitting in a small bush by the lake then they really excelled themselves by picking out a Scarlet-headed Blackbird sat in a distant clump of reeds, through the scope we could really see what a stunning bird this was, and hard to find in this area, as if to make the point the bird flew up and up and off into the far distance showing no signs of stopping. The afternoon was very hot and birding was slow but we still added Common Thornbird and Rusty-backed Antwren. It was dark well before we reached the lodge so we tried spot-lighting in the hope of a Jaguar, no big cats but we did find a Common Potoo sat on a dead tree, his orange eyes giving him away. Back the lodge we totted up the list and finished the day on 2,393.

With most of our wanted birds on the list, the next day, we could plan to target those that we had missed and of course Fernanda knew just where to look. We stood in a garden over at the staff quarters and collected Swallow-tailed Hummingbird and enjoyed amazing close-up views of feeding Hyacinth Macaws on the ground, their bills are massive.

We visited a particular dead tree and there sat the Great Black Hawk just as had been predicted, we later past the same tree and it had gone so it wasn’t nailed down. An area of tall grass was going to be a little tough to see birds in but we were assured the bird we wanted was in there somewhere. Creeping through the two meter high vegetation we found a small clearing and crouched at the edge, we kept stone still and after a while Fernanda played the tape softly. Nothing. Tape again. Nothing. Cramp was setting in and sweat was running down my face but we dared not move. Then a call, and another, closer, we hardly dared breath, it was now very close. Then it stepped into the clearing, Small-billed Tinamou, then it was gone, swallowed up the grass. A quick glance to confirm we had all seen it and then high fives, a tough bird on the list.

The afternoon was hot and humid and birding slowed with no new additions for the list but we still saw plenty of birds. A pair of massive Jabiru storks tended their young in an untidy nest in the fork of a dead tree, Capped Herons speared fish in roadside pools, Black-crowned Tityras sat out on a snag and we had great scope filling views. We also came across two more Giant Anteaters bumbling around the grasslands, they looked rather lost, no real direction or purpose to their wanderings, but what a delight to see these weird creatures. Ruth decided that they reminded her of vacuum cleaners, their noses reminiscent of the cleaner hose and their huge brush-like tails like the dust-bag at the back, must be the heat! We finished the day on exactly 2,400 species.

We would like to say, again, a huge thank you to Fernanda and all the lovely folks at Caimen Lodge for looking after us so well and boosting our world record breaking list by so much!

If you are looking for a short break this Autumn our North Wales tour might be of interest. We have a great selection of birds and habitats all within a few miles of our home here in Llandudno. Come and join us in September for our five day “Best of North Wales Tour” where we visit a wide range of habitats enjoying over 120 species of birds at a pace that gives us plenty of time to really enjoy the birds. The tour is based at a lovely country hotel with lots of birds around the hotel, great food throughout too! For all the details or to book your place please email us.

Lapland Bunting BB 3

September is an exciting time with migration in full swing - Lapland Bunting.

Please email us here to arrange your very own Birdwatching Trip…..

We look forward to enjoying wonderful birds and great fun with you soon!

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