Friday, June 21, 2019

The Quest for the Giant Ibis

Birding the Wetlands and Forests around Siem Reap

Some trips take a while to settle down.  I had a free weekend based in Singapore and was trying to work out what to do with it.  Version one saw me trying to persuade Jakarta-based birding guide Khaleb Yordan to come with me to Kalamintan to look for Bornean Peacock-Pheasant but the local guide said it was the wrong season.  Version two was a brief weekend around Siem Reap in Cambodia with just enough time to get some waterbirds and the Bengal Florican (somehow Khaleb managed to invite himself along on this trip too, not sure how that happened).  Then after a few schedule changes, I found myself with more time and so expanded the Cambodia trip to include a 3 day trip in search of Giant Ibis in Northern Cambodia.  Now I had a plan and was excited to visit a new country and see some very high quality birds.

Saturday, March 23 - Siem Reap

I'd arrived at Le Meridien Hotel the day before and Khaleb had flown in later that night.  First thing Saturday morning we met our local guide Mardy Sean from the famous Sam Veasna Center who arrived in a very nice Toyota Four Runner with a local driver ... seems I got the logistics all right for this trip.

Our plan for the day was to visit and bird around Ang Trapeang Thmor a reservoir built at the time of the ancient Angkor culture then rebuilt more recently by the Khmer Rouge using slave labor.  There was a lot of history in the place, good and bad, but it was the birds were were going to see and this site had a lot of birds.

We started before dawn and as the sun rose were were arriving at wet fields in time to see the arrival of huge numbers of Asia Openbill (Storks) and Painted Storks coming from their roosts and joining a massive assemblage of ducks, herons and other water birds.  It really was a very birdy spot and almost everywhere we went that day was just packed with birds.

Painted Storks
Our main target for the morning though was cranes, a group that I've always thought of as temperate but some make it to the tropics and the reservoir and the surrounding rice paddies were home to a large and important concentration of Sarus Cranes.  Mardy had good intel and soon enough we'd worked our way out onto the fields where there were 50+ Sarus Cranes feeding in the burned rice paddies, a very cool site.  Who doesn't love cranes?

Sarus Cranes (Photo: Khlaeb Yordan .. used with permission)
With the target in the bag, the pace for the rest of the day was relaxed.  Next stop produced an incredible collection of roosting owls of three species - Barn Owl, Spotted Wood-Owl, and Spotted Owlet - one can only imagine how many rats must live in these rice fields in order to support such a density of predators.  This site was also the location of a bit of a disaster.  I was walking along and heard a "thud", looking down to see the bottom half of my Canon 400mm lens had fallen off and dropped to the ground.  I picked it up but the fall had broken the circuit ribbons so no repair was possible.  Day 2 of a 2-week trip to Asia and I had no lens .... not a good thing.

Barn Owl (Photo: Khaleb Yordan) 
Spot-billed Pelican (Photo: Khaleb Yordan)
We kept birding hard, perhaps harder now that I wasn't distracted by the need to take photos, and added a lot of birds.  By the time we left that afternoon we had seen 90 species including such goodies as Black-Necked Stork and Greater Spotted Eagle along with a huge range of water birds.  A very nice start to the trip.

Sunday, March 24 - Siem Reap to Tmatboey

A long day today that started with a 'mega' target bird in the form of a visit to the BENGAL FLORICAN grasslands.  This striking bustard is in deep trouble with less than a thousand remaining individuals scattered across Cambodia and India and populations declining everywhere.  Here at least though they were easy to see and our guides' attempts to have us eat breakfast before looking for the bustards were ruined when the bustards kept popping up out in the grasslands around us.  Fruit was dropped, coffee was spilled, but we all saw the birds and were able to salvage breakfast after the fact. A very nice way to start the day with the sun coming up over the grasslands reminding me that birding really does take you to the most amazing places.

Bengal Florican (Khaleb lent me his lens for a minute)
The Florican reserve also had lots of other good birds, Manchurian Reed-Warbler was a lifer as was Blue-breasted Quail.  There were more Sarus Cranes, Small and Yellow-legged Buttonquails, Red Avadavats and Australian Bushlarks.   We had two local guides on motorbikes who rushed ahead, found or flushed birds then waited for us to come and see them.  This was really very well organized birding and quite easy, I was beginning to feel a bit guilty, but then our time was limited so I wanted to make the most of it.

Leaving the grasslands reluctantly behind us we had a long drive ahead to the North but made a couple of stops when we entered more woodland habitat, adding different birds along the way.  White-rumped Falcon was my key target here and we managed to find a female at the Being Mealea temple (we saw a male two days later on the way back).

White-rumped Falcon (Photo: Khaleb Yordan)
By late afternoon we arrived at our home for the next two nights, a basic but comfortable lodge at Tmatboey.  Conservation orgs have worked with the local villagers here to preserve the population of GIANT and WHITE-SHOULDERED IBIS.  They have worked to reduce hunting and the use of chemicals in farming while promoting eco-tourism and enhanced farming incomes through the sale of certified organic (Ibis-friendly) rice.  While it's certainly no pristine wilderness the project has managed to help to preserve the ibis populations in an area where a lot of people make a living from farming and would otherwise have no incentive to keep the forest or the birds around.  So a success story, and we were playing our part by paying to visit.  Now the ibis had to play their part by letting us see them.

We spent most of the afternoon searching for Giant Ibis and drew a blank at the usual sites.  We did bump into some Brown Fish-Owls, a lifer for me and a surprise for Mardy who hadn't seem them at this site before, but the ibis remained elusive.  Then, with perhaps only 45 minutes before sunset, we got word from another guide that they'd found an ibis but it was at least 30 minutes drive then hike away from us.  So off we went, racing against the light, but ultimately arriving in time to see one of the world's great bucket-list birds, GIANT IBIS, sitting quietly in a tree.

The amazing Giant Ibis (Photo: Khalen Yordan)
Monday, March 25 - Tmatboey

With the Giant Ibis in the bag, Mardy and the local guides visibly relaxed.  Only now did they tell us that the early rains had made them quite worried as the rains give the ibis the opportunity to wander away from their dry-season haunts and spread out in the forest hunting frogs.  In short, they get much harder to see when the rains come, so we'd gotten a bit lucky and now everyone was very relieved.

White-shouldered Ibis (Photo: Khaleb Yordan)
The other star ibis, WHITE-SHOULDERED IBIS, turned out to be a lot easier.  At first light we drove to some trees where the ibis had been seen roosting the last few nights and got scope views before they dropped down into the forest and vanished.  This was the last of my five key target birds so I was able to relax too now and from here on in just enjoy the birding.  So the rest of the day was a very nice and very easy set of short walks through the woodland adding local species at each stop.

Black-headed Woodpecker (Photo; Khaleb Yordan)
Rufous-bellied Woodpecker (Photo: Khaleb Yordan)
After a good day of birding and a tasty local meal cooked by the village ladies at the lodge, I at least was looking forward to a good night of sleep and so crashed early.  In the middle of the night I found that I was having trouble sleeping though, it felt like there were some insects inside my mosquito net and while I kept flipping them off my face, half-asleep in the pitch dark, they kept coming back and, well bugging me.  When I turned my flashlight on the scale of the problem became more apparent, there were literally thousands of winged termites in the room, swarming all over the mosquito nets, the walls and the floor.  Khaleb ran to the bathroom and turned on the bathroom light and the whole mass of little insect bodies migrated towards the light eventually leaving us to get some sleep.  It wasn't a pretty site in the morning though, the toilet, the sink and the water bucket all had a layer of dead termites several inches thick on them and more little corpses carpeted the floor.  At least here was food for the birds in this forest I suppose and I'm sure the geckos in the lodge had a very good day.

Tuesday, March 26 - Tmatboey to Siem Reap

After an abortive try to get to the river - a road too muddy for a Toyota Four Runner is pretty much too muddy for anything - we started the long drive back to Siem Reap.  Several birding stops along the way added more birds, some views of temples, and more of a sense of the habitats of Central Cambodia.  Too soon though it was time to say goodbye, and after a tasty (and termite-free) last meal at Le Meridien we all parted ways with me heading back to Singapore and on to other adventures.  I'll definitely try to come back to Cambodia though and try to see some of the other special wildlife that they have there (the Vulture Restaurant, the Mekong Wagtail etc.), it's a beautiful country with wonderful people and great birds.

Cambodia with Asian Openbills

The Mountains of Taiwan

Two Days in the Mountains in Search of Taiwan's Endemic Birds

When I was a little kid (six or seven) I had a couple of what I called "big books", one of which was a cheap coffee-table-type slab called Encyclopedia of the Natural World or something of the sort.  It may have been short on science and biology but it had lots and lots of photographs and a series of painted plates that were designed to show the variety of species and the range of adaptations and forms of life around the world.  There might be a page on Lizards for example that featured Komodo Dragon and Marine Iguana along with Basilisk, Gila Monster, chameleons, skinks and geckos.  One page covered whales and dolphins, another butterflies, or trees, or primates; all of nature covered in perhaps 30 pages.  Birds were represented by perhaps four pages and maybe sixty species selected to show the awesome variety of the birds of the world.  There were Ostriches and Cassowaries along with Birds of Paradise and Hummingbirds, Penguins and Albatrosses, Parrots and Lyrebirds.  I spend a LOT of time staring at these pages as a kid, and imagining seeing all these wonderful, strange and exotic creatures.  Even at that age I was familiar with the common birds that lived in our garden and could draw comparisons between the familiar in the yard and the exotic in the book.  One species that still sticks in my mind to this day, perhaps because it was so unlikely as one of the chosen sixty, was the 'Formosan Firecrest' an incalculably more exotic version of the Goldcrest that we had in Wales.  Who knew that it would take me 45 years to actually see one ....

Thursday, March 28 - Taipei

An evening flight from Hong Kong after business meetings and I finally made it to Taiwan, something I had been planning to do for literally years.  I was met a the airport by Kuan-Chieh Hung otherwise known as "Chuck", founder and owner of Taiwan Bird Guide who picked me up in a rental car for a three hour drive South, getting ready for birds first thing Friday morning.  The only bird I recorded that evening was Savanna Nightjar which was calling near a gas station at a late night gas stop.  We also stopped at a 7-Eleven and picked up a bag of plastic-wrapped sandwiches and junk-food ... apparently the food options were going to be pretty limited in the mountains the next day ... this was not going to be a gourmet food trip.

Friday, March 29 - Dasyueshan Forest Road

Dawn found us in the foothills as we began two days of birding the famous Dasyueshan Forest Road, a paved two-lane route that snakes up through the mountains, crossing different types of woodland habitat and offering opportunities to see almost all the endemic birds of Taiwan.  Here the birding sites were defined by kilometer numbers but the best sites could also often be spotted in advance because there were photographers already there looking for the star birds at various known and traditional spots.

White-eared Sibia and Steere's Liocichla


At our first major stop we joined a half dozen photographers at what was clearly a stakeout and while we waited for the main target I got my first Taiwan endemics with Taiwan Yellow-Tit, Taiwan Yuhina, White-eared Sibia, Black-necklaced Scimitar-Babbler and several others all visible along the road.  We also took some time to track down some calling birds like the beautifully subtle Steere's Liocichla and the elegant Rusty Laughingthrush, then chased a fast moving group of Rufous-crowned Laughingthrushes up the road a bit to get good views.  Probably a third of the island's endemics in the first hour, not a bad start.

Rusty Laughingthrush and Rufous-crowned Laughingthrush

The star bird at this spot though was SWINHOE'S PHEASANT, one of the two stunning endemic pheasants to be found on this road and this spot was something of a photographers' stakeout for it.  Sure enough, after twenty minutes of waiting, a male casually walked down through the woods and crossed the road right in front of us accompanied by the whirring of multiple cameras.

Swinhoe's Pheasant
The pattern then for the rest of the day was similar, we'd drive another half mile up the road then stop and bird.  At each stop we added more endemics or some other cool bird like Little Forktail, not endemic but a lifer for me and a very neat species.

Little Forktail
Eventually mid afternoon, we made it to the top of the road where a nature center of sorts, a parking lot, and a concentration of several dozen photographers marked the stakeout for MIKADO PHEASANT.  We joined one of the stakeout stops for a while, not my favorite type of birding, so inevitably I got antsy and we wandered off to look for birds before returning several times to check again for pheasants.  There were of course more endemics in the area, the confiding White-whiskered Laughingthrush, Taiwan Rosefinch, Black-Throated Tit and Taiwan Fulvetta.  There were also some (to my mind) very European birds like Eurasian Nutcracker and White-backed Woodpecker in the higher altitude pines a reminder that were were in the Palearctic after all, albeit the Eastern Palearctic.  That last fact also reminded me that I hadn't seen my Formosan Firecrest, now re-named as FLAMECREST, yet so we kept an eye out and got brief views of one in a mixed flock a little later on.  Not exactly what I wanted but there was still tomorrow and for now we were focussed on pheasants.
Taiwan Rosefinch and White-whiskered Laughingthrush

By now the light was starting to soften and we still didn't have a Mikado Pheasant although the photographers didn't seem too worried and sat quietly at their stake-out seemingly confident that the birds would appear.  I was getting bored though and the temperatures were dropping so I was very happy when, on our third of fourth visit to the stake-out a female Mikado Pheasant wandered out of the bamboo and started feeding on the road near the photographers (the feeding of birds is illegal here, but clearly widely done and there was grain scattered on the roadside in several places).  The first female was later joined by a second and, even though I was ready to leave when we saw them, we then had to stay as we were trapped by the photographers who were shooting literally thousands of photographs of the birds and we couldn't pass without flushing their subjects.  In the end the delay was fortuitous though as a male pheasant wandered out to join his females.  What a spectacular bird.

Mikado Pheasant
Eventually the birds wandered off and we could make our way to a government guest house, a decidedly local buffet dinner, and rooms complete with great piles of blankets to guard against cold night temperatures.  I at least slept incredibly well.

Saturday, March 30 - Dasyueshan Forest Road

Up early again and some birding around the lodge produced another female Mikado Pheasant and some decent views of Taiwan Partridge, which we'd heard the day before but not seen.  We also got some Taiwan Barwings in the trees at the lodge and a close encounter with a Taiwan Serow, a strange endemic goat-antelope that I'd hoped we might be able to see while I was there.

Reeve's Muntjac and Taiwan Serow

Most of the morning we spent working a nice, quiet (no photographers) trail near the top of the road.  Almost as soon as we'd left the parking lot we encountered a very tame male Mikado Pheasant right next to the trail and spent a fair amount of time enjoying the bird at close range without the constant whirring of cameras.  A much more satisfying experience than the one surrounded by photographers the day before, and it got better when we also got good views of the Flamecrest and added a few more of the last endemics we needed on the mountain.

No cropping this one, just too close.
Coming down from the mountain mid-day we made a stop at a fern farm in the foothills to look for another set of birds.  There were a few endemics more easily found here and we were able to get them all fairly quickly.  There was Taiwan Bamboo-Partridge, Collared Finchbill, Dusky Fulvetta and Taiwan Scimitar-Babbler and by now we were down to the last three possible endemics (assuming the nomadic Taiwan Thrush wasn't around and we didn't have time to go to the South for Styan's Bulbul).

Black Bulbul and Collared Finchbill

Next up was Taiwan Hwamei, easy to hear but not easy to see ... but we needed to see it because escaped Chinese Hwamei have become established on Taiwan.  We spent a fair amount of time stalking a singing bird before being able to see it well and satisfy ourselves that we had a 'good one'.  With that in the bag we were just about to drive to another location to look for Chestnut-bellied Tit, when one popped up on a power line right over our heads ... we were definitely on a roll, and one bird away from getting all of our targets in two days.

Malayan Night-Heron
Taiwan Blue-Magpie
Our last target was Taiwan Blue-Magpie but on the way we stopped to look for Malayan Night-Heron in a local park (this species seems to love exclusively in parks and gardens as far as I can tell).  Finally we successfully tacked down the magpie at Shimen Reservoir and headed back to Taipei for a night in a motel near the airport and the long journey back to the US for me.  I was absolutely exhausted but very happy to have seen basically all the available Taiwan endemic birds in such a short time.  Of course two days was nowhere near enough to do justice to this unique island but we did see an awful lot and Chuck worked his ass off to make sure I had a great experience.  So will I be back?  I'd like to think so, there's still the Styan's Bulbul after all, and the way things are getting split these days I'm sure there'll be reason to re-visit ....

Ever feel like you're being watched?  Taiwan Serow in the forest


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Uruguay

Sometimes You Just Get the Urge to Visit a New Country

I tell anyone that will listen (and some who don't) that the eBird map has totally transformed the way I bird.  At the county level it inspired me to finish visiting each of New York State's 62 counties and at the global level it has me staring from the windows of airports hoping to create lists for new cities that fill in white spaces on the map.  It also sits open on my computer a lot and triggers frequent day-dreaming about seeing some of the places I've not yet been, indeed one thing that struck me last year was that, even though I have travelled a lot over the course of the last 30 years, I tend to go back to the same 10 countries an awful lot.  A lot of my travel was, by necessity, to global business hubs, so I have been to the UK 50+ times since moving to New York, and made dozens of visits to Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.  Even with my 'pure' birding trips though I seem to go back to the same places .... 10 trips to Brazil for example.  This year I thought I'd try to add a few new countries so planned to branch out and visit Ghana, Cambodia, Taiwan and, for no good reason other than curiosity, Uruguay.

Greater Rhea
Friday, February 22 - Montevideo to Punta del Este

I spent a pleasant Thursday night being a tourist in Montevideo before an early meeting with expatriate Frenchman and local natural history expert Thierry Rabau for a couple of days of birding.  There were not a lot of potential life birds on offer for me and Thierry quickly and expertly managed my expectations down on the few things that I though we might get.  Still, I was here to see a new country, not rack up a big list of life birds so I resolved just to go birding and 'see what we saw'.

First stop was Cerro Pan de Azucar where I added Gilded Hummingbird before spending much of the morning at the very birdy Laguna del Diario.  At this large marsh on the coast, we saw about fifty species and, while none were particularly rare or new for me, it was very high quality birding in a new area.
Southern Screamer and Giant Wood-Rail

The birds kept coming in the afternoon too as we birded several wetland sites in the Punta del Este area, filling out our species list and getting us positioned for the next day of birding in the NorthEast of the country.  There were terns and shorebirds, quite a few wading birds, including a few Maguari Storks, and just a nice selection of birds that kept us busy through the afternoon.  That evening I wandered down to the docks and ate an amazing seafood meal, accompanied by good Uruguayan red wine (Tannat), sitting feet from the sea and surrounded by the sounds of the waves .... it's not a tough life sometimes.

Punta del Este
Saturday, February 23 - Rocha Province

Today we spent all day birding in the grasslands and marshes of the more remote Rocha Province.  There was a lot of space here, and large areas of ranch land with decent patches of original habitat still left.  With no pressure to hit specific life birds, we just went birding but did manage to add five new birds to my list nevertheless.  The grasslands had Greater Rheas and Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures but also some really colorful grassland birds like Scarlet-headed Blackbird and my old friend the Saffron-cowled Blackbird.


Saffron-cowled Blackbird
Scarlet-headed Blackbird
Amongst the new things for me, the Variable Oriole was common (a recent split), as was the Brown-and-yellow Marshbird, but we had to work a lot harder for Curve-billed Reedhaunter and Sulphur-throated Spinetail.  Finally we managed to find a Glaucous-blue Grosbeak, which despite being disappointingly small and brown (a female), created a neat sense of accomplishment.

Curve-billed Reedhaunter ... my second, and final reedhaunter.
Perhaps the best part of the day though was just the relaxed birding and the sense of seeing new country.  We birded up as far as the land border with Brazil (identified with stone markers but no fence that I could see) and I enjoyed just seeing a new place and new environments.  The habitats and birds were in many ways quite similar to the ones I'd seen in Brazil earlier in the week, although with more water birds, being closer to the coast.  When all was said and done we'd tallied 155 species in two days, not a bad set of birds.

Coscoroba Swans
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
All too soon it was time to wend South again and, after a another relaxed seafood dinner in Punta de Este, make my way back to Montevideo and hence back to São Paulo then New York.  Not the most productive birding yield from a listing perspective, but it was exactly what I wanted for this trip so thanks to Thierry for working so hard to make it a great experience for me ... some great birding in a new country.  I'm still looking at that map, who knows, maybe Paraguay next year ...

Paella in Punta del Este


Araucaria Forests and Grasslands of SouthEast Brazil

A Quick Trip to Rio Grande do Sul

I'd long wanted to go to the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, especially after visiting the neighboring states of Paraná and Santa Catarina last year.  The most Southerly state of Brazil was an intriguing blank spot on the map and, even though it didn't offer a lot of prospects for life birds, there were some high quality endemic birds to be seen.  Sometimes however, I'm just curious to see a place and so, with a planned business trip to São Paulo, I added a few days to explore the state on my way to Uruguay.

Sunday, February 17 - São Francisco de Paula

A quick flight from São Paulo to Porto Alegre on Saturday night and I met up with Rafael Santos, another super-talented birding guide who I'd coaxed into birding with me that week.  So early Sunday morning we were off on the road, driving North to Santa Catarina state (should have paid attention to the planning I guess) but at least our first stops were in Rio Grande do Sul.

This trip was all about grassland birds, so a lot of little brown jobs ('LBJs') had to be coaxed out of the grass and scrub in order to join my life list.  Our first couple of stops, in the vicinity of São Francisco de Paulo set the tone for much of the rest of the trip, mostly scanning and listening from the roads, then venturing into the grasslands when we located a bird.

Lesser Grass-Finch
Straight-billed Reedhaunter
Our first serious stop added some very good birds.  We could see Black-and-white Monjitas out in the field so stopped and ventured in, in the process uncovering several other specialty birds in the same area.  Lesser Grass-Finch was there, along with Long-tailed Cinclodes and some Black-bellied Seedeaters.  On the way out we were also able to coax a Straight-billed Reedhaunter out in a marshy ditch.  Three life birds at the first stop, not bad.

Chimango Caracara, cute in it's own way ... 
Freckle-breasted Thornbird
The rest of the day we kept moving North and picking up more birds.  Spotted Nothura was a treat (the first of 4 we saw that week), as was hearing Marsh Tapaculo (only my second time).  Freckle-breasted Thornbird was another 'LBJ' for the life list and rounded out a very nice day of birding before we crossed over into the state of Santa Catarina and arrived at our destination for the night, the Eco-Pousada Rios dos Touros in Urupema.

Araucaria trees
Monday, February 18 - Urupema

Today was a full day of birding and started out with a very civilized breakfast and a crop of life birds in the picturesque grounds of the Pousada.  As soon as it was light enough to bird we worked the Araucaria forest around the lodge and then had coffee while watching birds come to the feeders.  Scalloped Woodcreepers were perhaps the first birds we heard, soon joined by Striolated and Araucaria Tit-Spinetails. tapaculos always make me happy and we were able to lure a Planalto Tapaculo into view and even the local star, the Chestnut-backed Tanager cooperated beautifully, joining us for breakfast at the feeder.

Chestnut-backed Tanager
After breakfast we spent most of the morning birding some beautiful grasslands at Morro de Combate where, after some serious effort we finally tracked down some Saffron-cowled Blackbirds.  This was clearly the target for the the area and it took us several hours to find some (of course, once we found one, we then found a whole flock not long thereafter).  This species is fascinating - it feeds under Black-and-white Monjitas which it uses as sentries - but also rapidly declining due to habitat loss and poaching for the cage bird trade.  By scanning the fields, and looking for monjitas, we hoped to find some and then, on the fifth or sixth group of monjitas, there they were, hidden deep in the grass before flushing and giving us better looks.

Black-and-white Monjita
The scarce and declining Saffron-cowled Blackbird
More grasslands and some dwarf woodland in the afternoon added a few more species and, still having energy we decided to stay out after dinner and go night birding.  A try for Sickle-winged Nightjar came up empty but we did see Scissor-tailed Nightjar and Long-trained Nightjar so it was hard to complain.  A very nice day of birding in new habitats.

Scissor-tailed Nightjar and Long-trained Nightjar

Tuesday, February 19 - São Francisco de Paula

After some more birding in the morning near Urupema, notable mostly for my life Eastern Slaty Thrush, we decided to get on the road and head back to Rio Grande do Sul.  We had some nice grassland birding on the way back South but our goal for the day was two specialty species of parrot.

By 3:30pm we were in position near a known parrot roost and while we had to wait an hour or so, eventually parrots started to fly into a stand of non-native eucalyptus trees above our heads.  These were Red-spectacled Parrots, a lifer for me, and we ended up spending quite some time with them before heading off to our very nice hotel in town.

Red-spectacled Parrots
Wednesday, February 20 - São Francisco de Paula

The Hotel Veraneio Hampel was a great hotel with a wonderful restaurant and a delicious and extensive breakfast service.  It also had Vinaceous-breasted Parrots feeding in the trees around the grounds ... good food, good wine, and lifers from the terrance .... what more could you ask for?

Someone making me an omelet - this does not happen often on birding trips ...
After breakfast we had a very active and productive morning of birding with fifty plus species seen at the FLONA forest site near town.  Brown-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant was probably the best new bird but the scarce Blue-bellied Parrots were certainly the rarest species (only my second sighting ever) and Black Hawk-Eagle added a little drama when it came close over the tree tops above us.

Brown-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant ...
... the name may be longer than the bird.

Then, having seriously run out of potential life birds we went back to the grasslands and, after enjoying more Saffron-cowled Blackbirds, put some concentrated effort into tracking down a Hellmayr's Pipit for my life list (accomplished with the help of a generous local land-owner who directed us to the correct site based only on Rafael's description of what good habitat might look like).

Hellmay's Pipit in the grasslands.
Thursday, February 21 - São Francisco de Paula

Some final early morning birding then a long drive to catch my flight to Uruguay.  Another wonderful trip to Brazil and, as usual, I can't wait to go back.  I only had 20 lifers in this trip but many were memorable and it was a really quite pleasant natural history experience.  Plus I got to see a place I'd long wanted to see .... and so on to the next adventure ...