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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Visit to Fazenda Rio Negro in the Pantanal August 2006,
A colleague of mine goes to Brazil once a year to work on sloth reproduction. He is not a birder, but suggested a trip to the Pantanal as one of the few parts of Brazil he had never visited before. The trip was based on a few days in Sao Paulo, two days in the Pantanal and a few days at a conference in Riberao Preto before I headed home and he went slothing in Recife. As an inducement, I got to choose the lodge. We went to Fazenda Rio Negro in a package put together by Journey Latin America. This Fazenda (Manageress Paula Lago) has the advantage that it is a bit further into the Pantanal and houses an experimental station run by Conservação Internacional Brasil. Before this, it was the location for a popular Brazilian TV soap-opera called “Pantanal !!!” which ran for over 200 episodes in 1990 and apparently featured a heady mix of ecology, full frontal nudity and a woman who could turn into a jaguar.
Getting there involved a commercial flight from Sao Paulo to Campo Grande where we were met by Paula, a car trip across the provincial border into Matto Grosso do Sul province and a half-hour flight in a small Cessna. As gringo tourists, we paid for the Cessna, but the Fazenda gratefully packed in all sorts of freight and a spare passenger. The Fazenda was a delightful, hundred-year-old, rustic assembly of buildings including a chapel. It is not luxurious, but they mix a fine Caipirinha (try it with passion fruit rather than limes) and the piranha soup is great. They also do night drives.
In recent years there have been a number of “pocket” guides to South American birds, but there was little available when I went. I used “All the Birds of Brazil” by Deodata Souza (published Subbuteo Natural History Books 2nd Edition June 2006) which I got hold of with a week or two to spare. Initially I was unenthusiastic about the illustrations which have a “crayoned by children” feel to them. However, when I actually used them in the field they worked extremely well since they tended to emphasise distinguishing features. The distribution maps, which show the administrative divisions of Brazil, were also very useful for separating confusion species. The English names are those used by that guide.
(Also recommended is A Field Guide to the Birds of Brazil by Ber van Perlo from Amazon.com or )
We visited the Pantanal during the dry (austral winter) season, so the species, numbers and distribution were probably very different from the wet summer when it is inundated by Andean melt-water. It is best to describe what we saw in zones – the garden, the paddock, the low scrub forest around the Fazenda, the river, the riverine forest, the pools and salinas.
1. In the Fazenda garden. Blue-throated piping guan, Bare-faced curassow, Pale-bellied thrush and Green-winged saltator would feed on the discarded fruit on the rubbish dump. Purple jay were common, but tended to hide in the middle of the bushes. Swallow-tailed hummingbirds and various swallows would sit on the clothes line. There was a Ferruginous pigmy owl in the tree outside my room which would puff itself up in fury if I got too close. Guira cuckoo and ovenbird were also around the Fazenda.
2. Opposite the Fazenda there were extensive paddocks for horses and cattle with large drinking ponds. The paddocks contained Greater rheas, Buff-necked ibis, Southern lapwing and Field (Campo) flicker. The mud around the drinking pond was the daytime roost for groups of Nacunda nighthawks camouflaged as cow-pats. Peach-fronted parakeets waded through the mud for water and minerals; when their feet got too caked, they high-kicked like a small colourful group of stormtroopers. The trees around the drinking ponds had Southern screamer, Plumbeous ibis, and Black-collared hawk. Cattle tyrants sat (naturally) on the cattle. The spectacular White woodpeckers were using hollow fence-poles for nests, while Hyacinth macaws sat on the poles by day to be replaced by Long-tailed potoos at night. Vermillion flycatcher, Thrush-like wren, Roadside hawk, Savannah hawk, American kestrel, Narrow-billed woodcreeper were in the low trees and scrub bordering the paddocks which spread out into
3. the low scrub forest surrounding the Fazenda. Here were Crested caracara, Guira cuckoo, Hyacinth macaw, Monk parakeet, Lineated woodpecker, Plush-crested jay, Rufous-tailed jacamar, Chalk-browed mockingbird, Palm tanager, Shiny cowbird, Giant cowbird, Blue-crowned trogon, Turquoise-fronted parrot, Great kiskadee.
4. Associated with the river and surrounding riverine jungle were Jabiru, Wood stork, Collared plover, Pied lapwing, Anhinga, Black skimmer, Rough-winged swallow, Chaco chacalaca, Ringed kingfisher, Amazon kingfisher, Green kingfisher, Yellow-billed tern, Roseate spoonbill, Green ibis, Solitary sandpiper, Boat-billed heron, Pied water tyrant, Silver-beaked tanager, Large-billed tern, Sungrebe, Rufescent tiger-heron, Snowy egret, Toco toucan, Chestnut-eared aracari, Pale-headed woodpecker, Pale-legged hornero.
The river in spate must be some sight. A substantial wooden bridge had been completely wrecked by trees coming down during the last austral summer. A large Portuguese family also staying at the Fazenda asked if we had been on the river and seen the bridge. When we said yes, they all started whistling “Colonel Bogey”* and fell about laughing ! (*Theme tune from “Bridge on the River Kwai” for youngsters)
5. In and around the pools and salinas The salinas are a peculiarity. They are brackish lakes believed by some to form an interconnected chain linked to the Atlantic. We saw Least grebe, Black-bellied whistling duck, Brazilian duck, Muscovy duck, Little blue heron, Cocoi heron, Whistling heron, Snail kite, White-faced ibis, Yellow-headed caracara, Wattled jacana, White-headed marsh tyrant, Purple gallinule.
Mammals at Fazenda Rio Negro
One species loved to pose for the camera (Yes, I mean you, Mr. Crab-eating fox) and capybaras were everywhere along the river, but most mammals were pretty shy and you only saw them once or twice. These included
Giant ant-eater. Forget David Attenborough whispering reverentially in Life on Earth. Despite walking on recurved toe-nails, these beasts are fast (much faster than our very fit guide could run) so the back end of a huge bushy tail was a typical view.
Brazilian tapir. Only distant views of animals drinking at one of the salinas.
Jaguar. Sadly, only a paw print still on a sandbar where one had come to drink a couple of days before. Giant otter. A small family on the river. Really nice.
Tayra. Again, distant views of this really unusual mustelid; large with a brown body and a mustard yellow head. The first our guides had ever seen. Also, Red Brocket deer, Pampas deer, White-lipped peccary, Armadillo, Crab-eating raccoon.
Ribeiro Preto (“Black Creek”) is not on the obvious tourist map, being 200 miles inland of Sao Paulo. It is noted for agrobusiness and technology but is especially famous for the Antarctica Brewery Company which makes Pinguim beer, held to be the best in Brazil. However, I found a couple of interesting birding sites.
The first is the zoo which is set within a large park on a raised hill completely surrounded by roads and housing. Many of the animals have escaped from their enclosures, but continue to live wild within the park. The zoo itself contains many caged species of curassow and I found White-edged piculet, Yellow-chevroned parakeet, Squirrel cuckoo, Plush-crested jay, Purple-throated euphonia, Saffron finch and Streaked flycatcher in the trees.
The second is a more urban park with waterways down past the bus station, where I found Green barred woodpecker, White woodpecker, Campo flicker, Rufous-browed peppershrike, Masked water tyrant, Gray monjita and pale-bellied thrush amongst others.
Overall view. Maybe one for the more intrepid traveller, but an excellent and relaxed place once you get there. Guides were very knowledgeable on birds. Two trips out a day, with a night trip possible for enthusiasts. You can fish or go horse-riding or kayaking as well. This trip was five years ago, so check the current situation.
At around 120+ species in two days, we were not trying to break records, but some of those species were spectacular. To see nine hyacinth macaws flying in and sitting in a row on fence posts is not an everyday occurrence.
Great white egret,
Little blue heron,
Black-crowned night heron,
White-faced whistling duck,
Black-bellied whistling duck,
Lesser yellow-headed vulture,
Blue-throated piping guan,
Grey-necked wood rail,
American purple gallinule,
Blue ground dove,
Scaled ground dove,
Yellow-chevroned parakeet (these may be conspecifics),
Great rufous woodcreeper,
Buff-throated woodcreeper/Rufous cachalote,
Common Tody Flycatcher,
Masked Water Tyrant,
White-headed marsh tyrant,
Southern rough-winged swallow,