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Brazil, The Amazon and Pantanal, 7th - 23rd October 2013,
Introduction and Summary
Seeing 26 antwrens, antshrikes and antbirds was a highlight of this trip. Birds within the family Thamnophilidae formed 9.3% of the total birds seen compared to 7.4% seen in July 2013 on tour to the Amazon and the Pantanal by Athanas 2013.
This report describes a seventeen day tour to the Amazon and the Pantanal. Travel to and from the Pantanal was arranged by the lodges we stayed at. It appears many of the trip reports of visits to the Cristalino Jungle Lodge (CJL) and the Pantanal are by company tour leaders (Athanas, 2013) and (Zimmer, 2013), guides at CJL (Lees, 2003) and (Wallace, 2005) or those traveling with their own bird guide (Rogers, 2008). Fewer trip reports like this one are by those whose guide is employed by the lodge (Lambert & Tobias, 2004). During our trip, with the exception of CJL, we probably saw fewer birds than are seen on an organized bird tour. However by traveling independently we often had the advantage of having a guide, employed by the lodge, to ourselves.
The dry season was coming to an end during our stay in the Amazon, with a weather pattern emerging of bright sunny mornings and early afternoons. The wind then noticeably increased followed by torrential rain, often accompanied by thunder and lightning, lasting approximately two hours.
Rainfall in the Pantanal was negligible during our visit. It was often very hot with temperatures of 90°F / 32.2°C in the shade or 100°F / 37.8°C F in the sun.
Before the trip I had some idea of the main features of 413 birds we were most likely to see, but not their vocalisations, based on the list by Lees et al (2011) and trip reports by Athanas (2013) and Wallace (2005). Twenty three percent of the birds seen were common birds and therefore not included on the list of 413. As were the 13 birds we saw that were not expected to be seen.
I used a field note book throughout the trip and listed the birds as they were seen, as did our guide at the CJL.
We saw 271 species of birds during our visit to Brazil.
Travel from Cuiaba to CJL for 7 nights.
Travel to Cuiaba for one night.
Travel to Pousada Piuval for 4 nights.
Travel to Araras Eco Lodge for 4 nights.
Travel to Cuiaba for flight to Sao Paulo.
Day 1. Monday 7 October
Flight from Cuiaba, to Alta Floresta, we were met at the airport and transferred to the Hotel Floresta Amazônica, where after a short break we traveled to the CJL. Razor-billed Currasow and White-banded Swallow were seen whilst traveling upstream on the Rio Cristalino.
Day 2. Tuesday 8 October
AM. We made a short river crossing to the trail leading to the 164 feet / 50 metre canopy tower. We had exceptional views of a Red-fan Parrot, close to the platform at the top of the tower. A pair of Gould’s Toucanet was seen on our return for lunch.
PM. A male Manu Antbird was seen well amongst Guadua bamboo before torrential rain forced us to return to the lodge.
Day 3. Wednesday 9 October
AM. After a short river crossing we reached the Cacao trail where a Striolated Puffbird flew in and perched in full view close to the trail. Dusky-tailed Flatbill and Dot-winged Antwren were also seen well.
PM. We went upstream to the Brazil Nut Trail. Musician Wren was not seen or heard.
Day 4. Thursday 10 October
AM. We walked to the Trilla Rocas Trail and tower. Pearly-breasted Cuckoo, Rufous-bellied Euphonia and White-lored Tyrannulet were amongst others seen from the tower. Xingu Scale-backed Antbird was seen just before mid-day.
PM. It rained continuously during the afternoon.
Day 5. Friday 11 October
AM. We crossed the river to the start of the Serra Trail. Blackish Nightjars were flushed on the path leading to the summit and later seen well on the ground. Spotted Puffbird and Natterer’s Slaty Antshrike were seen well at the summit. Good views, both front and back of a Pied Puffbird was had with the aid of a telescope from the viewpoint, at the overhanging granite outcrop and wooden seat. A beautiful yellow and black Poison Dart Frog (Adelphonbates galactonotus) was caught and examined before releasing it into a pool on the granite rocks.
PM. We traveled by boat to some rapids on the Rio Teles Peres, where great views were had of Black-banded Swallows seen perched on small rocks in the river and flying overhead. We then explored a river island and saw Amazonian Tyrannulet and Lyre-tailed Nightjar.
Day 6. Saturday 12 October
AM. We went by boat to the Rio Teles Peres and disembarked at the unpaved road leading back to Cuiaba. A Grey-chested Greenlet was observed singing, almost continuously, whist sitting in a recently constructed nest. Chestnut-backed Antshrike and Snethlage’s Tody-Tyrant were also seen. We disturbed a harmless snake to humans, probably Chironius exoletus causing it to rise up, as if to strike, close to the trail.
PM. It rained hard till 1600hrs. We then watched low flying Short-tailed Swifts by the floating jetty.
Day 7. Sunday 13 October
AM. We traveled upstream to the Haffner Trail where we saw Spot-backed Antbird and had long views of a Scaly-backed Antwren singing. We also saw Flame-crowned Manakin, Bronzy and Blue-cheeked Jacamar.
PM. Poor views were had of Rufous-faced Antbird on the Trilla Rocas Trail. A Zigzag Heron was seen on the bank of the Rio Cristalino near the Brazil nut tree trail.
Day 8. Monday 14 October
AM. We made the short boat crossing to the trail leading to the canopy tower for the second time. Black and White Hawk Eagle was seen with the aid of a telescope. A Silvered Antbird was seen upstream just before the jetty.
PM. We went by mini-van to Altra Floresta stopping to see Point-tailed Palmcreeper on route. We then flew to Cuiaba and stayed overnight at the Hotel Deville.
Day 9. Tuesday 15 October
AM. We traveled to the Pousada Piuval.
PM. We went out across country in a 4x4 Toyota Hilux from which we had a partial view of an Undulated Tinamou as it continued walking in vegetation just ahead of us.
Day 10. Wednesday 16 October
AM. We walked across fields to a large pond, seeing Yellowish Pipit and White-headed Marshbird on the way.
PM. We saw a male adult Greater Rhea with four chicks from the vehicle.
Day 11. Thursday 17 October
AM. We drove across the open area and then walked to an oil palm grove, where we had several amazing views of Great Rufous Woodcreeper probing the base of the fronds, apparently a reliable place to see this bird and for me a much sought after bird, since first seeing Guy Tudor’s illustration in (Ridgely & Tudor, 1989).
PM. We saw a pair of Great Antshrikes and Greyish Saltator from the tower.
Day 12. Friday 18 October
AM. We walked to the tower where we saw Black Collard Hawk and White-lored Spinetail.
PM. We went in an open top lorry to the river, where a close up view of an Agami Heron was had for as long as we wished, amongst plants like water hyacinths.
Day 13. Saturday 19 October
AM. At a farm we saw Scaled Dove, cotton plants and a cashew nut tree with its fruits.
PM. We traveled to Araras Eco Lodge arriving at 1740hrs.
Day 14 Sunday 20 October
AM. Yellow-headed Caracara and Brown-chested Martin were seen from a lorry.
PM. We saw White Woodpecker on palms at the entrance gate and then continued to walk on the trails on the other side of the road, where we saw a Thrush-like Wren and other birds.
Day 15. Monday 21 October
AM, We had excellent views of three Orange-backed Troupial in perfect light from the open top lorry. At Sentinela Camp by the river Rio Clarinho we saw Mato Grosso Antbird well several times in the less dense vegetation compared to the habitat occupied by many of the antbirds at CJL. A striking male Helmeted Manakin was seen from our boat which our guide paddled. After an excellent barbeque we returned to the lodge but not before seeing a tapir cross the track in full view while we were standing talking quietly.
PM. We walked to the Bugio Tower from which we saw a female Black-tailed Tityra.
Day 16. Tuesday 22 October
AM. We went out by truck to a tower to see a pair of Jabiru that had exceptionally raised three chicks successfully. We had good views of Grey–headed and White-lored Spinetails.
PM. We walked to an area near the lodge where a stunning male White–wedged Piculet, Large Elaenia, Southern Scrub-Flycatcher and Rusty-backed Antwren responded well to the call of a Ferruginous Owl.
A melanistic Jaguarundi crossed the trail 15 yards / 13.7 metres in front of us, stopped and looked at us, before disappearing into the bushes.
Day 17. Wednesday 23 October
AM. A Red-billed Scythebill was seen under the long board walk to the tower before our guide spotted a distant Giant Eater in a field with horses. Having alerted other guests we watched as the anteater, sometimes in full view, eventually passed within 10 yards / 9.1 metres of us.
PM. We traveled to Cuiaba and flight to Sao Paulo.
Accommodation and activities
Cristalino Jungle Lodge.
When we booked in March 2013 only superior rooms were available. Our room was spacious and beautifully designed architecturally.
It is difficult for us to find a single criticism about this amazing lodge and their staff, from our initial e-mail enquires to the office and their offer to help with our ground arrangements, to their help with checking in with Azul Airlines with only our passports.
We were met off our flight at Altra Floresta at 1325 hrs. and taken to the Hotel Floresta Amazônica, also owned by Dona Vitória da Riva Carvalho. We waited in the hotel and walked around the garden till our driver, bird guide, and one other couple were ready for our journey by mini bus from Cuiaba to Cristalino Lodge, which took an hour and 10 minutes. After a short journey by boat we arrived at the impressive new floating wooden jetty at 1645hrs. that was opened recently.
Meal times started with breakfast at 0500hrs. lunch at 1230hrs. and dinner at 1930hrs. Coffee, tea, and filtered water were available throughout the day as well as biscuits in the afternoon. For breakfast, omelets were made to order with a choice of freshly baked bread, jams, cereal and fruit juices. Lunch and dinner were laid out as a buffet. During our stay the food was of a very high standard with enough for each guest to have second helpings should they so wish. Also there was an amazing choice of food including fresh lettuce, salad and a variety of fruits followed by dessert.
All the staff seemed to enjoy their work. The guides all seemed to get on well together, were always willing to talk to guests and arranged their visits with clients to the towers and trails so that their activities did not coincide with each other. There was excellent coordination between the boatmen and guides, insuring both parties were never kept waiting for long, if at all, when boats were used.
The newly constructed covered decking area with a bar adjoining the new restaurant was a good place to meet other guests before meal times. The new decking area had several separate tables and chairs for relaxing or one could sit in the comfortable settees in the library, which had a good selection of books on the flora and fauna of Brazil.
We booked the basic birding tour "Harpy Eagle Package" for 8 days and 7 nights. We were given a program with the habitats we would visit and a list of the birds most likely to be seen. I discussed this with our guide on the first day saying I had already seen Hoatzin which appeared to involve a long boat journey to see. However the guides had already worked out a program for us that included all the trails covered in the “Harpy Eagle Package". Clearly our guide had given it a lot of thought and the office had told them I was particularly interested in seeing the birds in the family Thamnophilidae.
The bird guides were all extremely knowledgeable, dedicated and professional. All had telescopes, laser torches and sound recording equipment. Before using playback, which was kept to a minimum, the guides would tell their clients which bird they were going to try to call in and whether the bird was likely to fly in close to the ground, on the ground or at mid-level and our guide was no exception. I found this strategy very helpful in letting me know what I was trying to see and time to try to remember what distinguishing features to look for. I was only going to get one chance to see most birds, as although not pressed, it was made clear the repeated use of play back was not an option on those occasions when I only managed a glimpse of a bird as it responded to playback before disappearing from view or I failed to see it at all amongst the viny tangles and leaves, except the movement when its response ended. Keeping playback to a minimum was completely acceptable and is likely to be a necessary practice to avoid habituation to its use at the CJL.
It was good to learn about dispersed leks, whisper-song and to share with our guide his excitement on seeing the second record of a Pearly-breasted Cuckoo at the CJL. Also his amazement at our good fortune on seeing a Red-fan Parrot displaying at eye level just 10 feet / 3.048 metres away in the canopy during our first visit to the tower.
Our room was clean and comfortable and we found the spare bed useful to put things on, rather than on the floor.
The buffet food was good and we appreciated the choice of having breakfast and lunch outside.
Our guide Jean had a good knowledge of the birds in the area and we were fortunate to have him birdwatching with just ourselves at the beginning of our stay. Another couple joined us later who had less interest in birdwatching.
We started each day between 0500hrs and 0600hrs returning for breakfast at 0730hrs. We then went out again after breakfast till lunch at mid-day. Dinner was at 1900hrs after we had been away from the lodge with our guide to around 1530hrs -1900hrs.
Araras Eco Lodge
Our room was spacious and well equipped. The food was very good. The buffet breakfast was at 0700hrs. and lunch at 1130hrs. both were taken under cover outside on long tables, with the cooked food kept piping hot. A buffet dinner was served in the very pleasant restaurant and bar at 1915hrs.
Allen, our guide knew the birds and mammals in the extensive grounds of the lodge and we were his only clients on some days which suited us but obviously not all guests staying at the lodge are particularly interested in birds, as was the case when another couple joined us.
Pousada Piuval and Araras Eco lodge were very different in many ways but equally enjoyable and we were pleased we stayed at both and in the order we did.