Sunday, March 26, 2017

Java in the Rainy Season

Three Days at Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park

Java is one of those places I've been half meaning to visit for a while.  It's close to Singapore, where I often end up on business trips, has lots of endemic birds, and has good local guides.  Last year, my Singapore birding friend Lim Kim Chuah had mentioned that he had a birding guide friend in Jakarta and was kind enough to put me in touch with Khaleb Jordan.  Nine months later, when I knew exact dates for my Singapore trip, Khaleb planned an "airport-to-airport" long weekend of birding in Western Javan for me.  The highlight of the trip was three days at the famous Gunung Gede Volcano, a real hotspot for Javan endemic birds.

Thursday, March 16 

A 5am pick-up and the Airport in Jakarta and a long drive to the park.  Once we arrived at the park HQ, we met our local guide and a porter and set off up the "Hot Spring Trail", planning to bird our way up 5 or 6 km to the Hot Springs themselves and then camp overnight.  The trail was relatively well maintained, and the going was actually pretty easy (at least going up) despite the steepness of the trail and the very mixed weather (we stopped and took shelter from heavy rain a couple of times).  The birding, while the guides thought it was slow, gave me a bunch of life birds.

Javan Trogon, perhaps the bird I most wanted on this trip

Javan Cochoa, a high quality endemic lifer
Many of the endemic birds of Java can be found along thus trail and we racked up a fair number of them that day - Javan Trogon, Javan Cochoa, Flame-fronted Barbet, Rufous-tailed Fantail, Javan Tesia, Javan Fulvetta, and Javan Whistling-Thrush were among a slew of life birds that I had that day.  Once we'd set up camp and eaten dinner we also added another with a search for Javan Scops-Owl yielding a calling bird close to camp.  Great day of birding, despite the rain and the steep hike.

The camp sight and the team ,..

Friday, March 17

After a rough and sleepless night on the hard ground in the tent - and being woken twice by a Japanese Ferret-Badger raiding our supplies and clattering around in our pots and pans - dawn came way too early.  In fact, we were up well before dawn, the plan being to hike another hour or so up the trail before first-light in the hopes of seeing a Javan Scops-Owl and perhaps even a Javan Woodcock. We had decided, given the weather, not to do the 4-hour hike to the crater for Volcano Swiftlet, and while I was sad to miss this bird, the prospect of walking 6-hours down the steep trail in the rain was quite daunting and adding another 3 hours to the hike really wasn't at all appealing.

The owls did indeed cooperate, giving good close views in the light, and while the woodcocks remained elusive, we did get a Salvadori's Nightjar for our troubles.

The hike down was 'tough' and by the time we got to dinner at the hotel that evening my knees and ankles were screaming in protest.  We did add some good life birds for me though, including several target birds like Rufous-fronted Laughing-Thrush, Spotted Crocias, Sunda Forktail and Sunda Bush-Warbler but at that point I would have been very happy never to see that trail again.

An endemic Javan Horned-Frog that spent a couple of hours with us during a downpour

Saturday, March 18

While I was reluctant to go back to the "trail of death" after my knee-jarring experience the day before, I manned up and set off up the very same trail again at dawn.  The decision turned out to be a good one with a great crop of birds seen or heard right at dawn including Javan Frogmouth, Sunda Scops-Owl, Barred Eagle-Owl and a Javan Banded-Pitta.

Javan-banded Pitta in the flash on the trail at dawn
The weather didn't really cooperate unfortunately and the rain and fog closed in quickly, pretty much killing our chances of seeing our target Javan Hawk-Eagle and Giant Swiftlet.  We did get some consolation though when a group of Asian Small-clawed Otters crossed the trail ahead of us and could be heard chirping in the marsh (otter species number 2 for the trip).

Speaking of mammals, we did actually see quite a few on the trail.  Ebony and Grizzled Leaf-Monkeys were common and visible, as were three species of squirrel - the Black Giant Squirrel being the most impressive, but the pudgy little Three-striped Ground-Squirrels quickly became a favorite.  We also saw an Asian Palm-Civet on the trail and some Long-tailed Macaques closer to the village.

Orange-spotted Bulbul in the rain, and the view from the boardwalk ...
note the lack of soaring raptors ....

Coming out of the forest at lunch time, we ate a great meal of goat stew and goat saté while we waited for the torrential rain to stop.  And newly fortified, and with the rain stopping mid-afternoon, we headed to the Cibodas Botanical Gardens and enjoyed some decent weather and another crop of life birds.
The restorative powers of a hot meal of goat ... then on to the Botanic Gardens

The biggest target at the gardens was the endemic Yellow-throated Hanging-Parrot which we saw after carefully watching a giant fig tree where they were feeding, well hidden in the green leaves.  While we were there we also finally had a fly-over Javan Hawk-Eagle and a moment of excitement when Khaleb found a Blue-and-White Flycatcher, a life bird for both he and I.

Javan Hawk-Eagle finally surrendered.
The endearing Pygmy Tit.
Blue-and-White Flycatcher, a scarce migrant was a life bird for Khaleb, while
Little Pied Flycatchers turned out to be abundant once I learned their call.

So a great haul of birds, a few good mammals, and I was sure that my knees would forgive me eventually.  Dinner that night was at a restaurant in a shopping mall, where a middle-aged local lounge singer treated us to his versions of popular George Michael songs ... not an experience I'll forget in a while, but I won't forget the great wildlife of this beautiful place either.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Asian Urban Birding (Part 5) - Singapore (again)

Another Day Off in the Parks of Singapore

Sunday March 12 - Singapore Botanic Gardens and Gardens By The Bay

Arrived early morning on a Singapore Airlines flight from Munich.  The hotel room wasn't ready of course so, rather than hang out at the Spa (as the staff at the ParkRoyal Hotel suggested) I dumped my bags and took a cab over to the Botanic Gardens.

First stop was the Rainforest trail, where a few good birds, including an Orange-headed Thrush - a potential lifer for me - had been hanging out this Winter.  The thrush hadn't been reported for a while but I was hopeful and started carefully birding the boardwalk, listening for things rustling in the leaf-litter.  By the time I reached the end of the trail though, I'd seen absolutely nothing, so I turned around to try again and this time moved even more slowly, scanning thoroughly, and was rewarded with close views of a HOODED PITTA (but no thrush).

Hooded Pitta - hard to photograph in the darkness of the forest floor 

Feeling good about the Pitta, I decided to quickly pick up the long-staying Buffy Fish-Owl at it's regular roost.  I knew exactly where it was, but as I've said before, I suck at finding owls so it took my 15 minutes of systematic searching before I finally located it .... pretty much sitting in the open ... right where it was supposed to be.

Buffy Fish-Owl
Next stop was a reported HODGSON'S HAWK-CUCKOO, which would also have been a life bird for me.  I braved the weekend crowds near Swan lake and started circling around in the area where it had been reported but was soon distracted when a photographer told me his friend had just found a roosting Large-tailed Nightjar.  Who isn't up for seeing a roosting nightjar?

The nightjar was relatively easy to find, and not far away I also bumped into a couple of Black Bazas and the cuckoo.  All in all a very productive couple of hours spent in the Botanic Gardens.  Wonderful spot.

Large-tailed Nightjar and Hodgson's Hawk-Cuckoo

After checking in at the hotel and taking a shower, I decided to go birding again and took a cab over to the Gardens By The Bay, Singapore's newest (and most expensive-looking) park.  The weather wasn't great for birding, with the sun beating down and the birds generally keeping under cover, but I persevered and managed to winkle out a few things.  The big highlight for me though wasn't a bird, but finally bumping into Singapore's famous urban otters.

Gardens By The Bay and one of the famous Indian Smooth-coated Otters

This family group of Indian Smooth-coated Otters are celebrities in Singapore and the city has erected "otter crossing" signs in many parts of the Marina Bay area.  Today the otters were hanging out at the park, eating some tasty-looking fish, and putting on a show for their adoring audience (and one Welsh Paparazzi).  This was actually a new species for me so I lingered for a while, took a lot of photos, and pointed them out to delighted tourists.  Who says urban wildlife is dull?

As the sun started to get a little less intense the birds started to perk up too.  A nice sampling of herons all emerged from the reeds at the 'bittern ponds' (my name for them) and I was able to track down a nice Asian Emerald-Dove nearby.  There were some Changeable Hawk-Eagles overhead and the place was just a lot birdier as the heat dropped and the smaller birds got more active again.

Changeable Hawk-Eagle 
Asian Emerald-Dove 
Striated Heron and the (much rarer) Black Bittern

Not a bad day of birding, and I wrapped up an amazing visit in Singapore with dinner at the fabulous Restaurant André (currently #32 on the World's 50 Best Restaurant List).  Singapore pretty much has everything ... can't wait to come back.

2 of 20 dishes at André

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Keeping Myself Amused with County Listing

A Few County Ticks Near New York City 

Not much to report this last weekend.  It was cold, I was busy, but I did get to sneak out for a while on Saturday.

Last week, I added a couple of new birds to my New York County (basically Manhattan) list.  This county, having been my home (or one of them) for 25 years, should be huge .... but it isn't because basically all of my birding happens in Central Park which has no coastal habitats.  Still, this week I had the opportunity to add Killdeer (#213) and Great Cormorant (#214) to the list.  Probably not the first time I've seen either species, just the first time I put them in eBird.  Slow progress ....

Saturday, March 4 - Suffolk and Nassau Counties

Cold.  Very cold.  So a quick morning of birding that never really hit it's stride.  I added a EURASIAN WIGEON to the year list at Seatuck Creek, then failed to find Rusty Blackbird at Quogue Wildlife Refuge or American Bittern at Dune Road.

At Oak Beach I failed to find a Barrow's Goldeneye -  a classic dip day was clearly unfolding here - but then bumped into Brent Bomkamp and Taylor Sturm who gifted me some good intel.  A few minutes later I added EARED GREBE to my Suffolk County List (#324) and later picked up some early migrants for the year list with Piping Plover, Eastern Phoebe and Tree Swallow all joining the list.  Cold and not really feeling the birds though, I gave in and went home, some days it's best not to fight your karma.

When I got home, I settled in, put a cooking show on Netflix and opened a bottle of wine.  I also logged on to catch up on social media and noticed a photo of a Long-eared Owl posted by Anders Peltomaa on Facebook.  Now Anders pretty much sticks to Central Park where he birds while walking his dog, so I messaged him to see if the sighting was recent, and it turns out he'd found the bird that morning in the Shakespeare Garden ... and very generously shared exact directions.  So what to do ... back in the Winter cloths and over to Central Park where ... the owl was exactly where it was supposed to be.

A year bird, and even though I've seen this species several times in Central Park before, they never get old.  Such a cool creature.

So done for birding for the Winter.  I saw what I saw, and now I'm off to Asia for a bit.  And when I get home, hopefully Spring will have arrived.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Birding Goals and Following Through On Them ...

Another New York State Bird and Some More Modest Progress Towards Goals

I spent most of the week like a cat pressed against the glass window itching to be outside but trapped indoors.  The weather this week was beautiful, 60+ degrees and sunny, if a little unseasonable for February in New York.  The bird news was also good, or frustrating depending on your point of view.

Me this week ....
Mid week, two bits of news broke:
1. A CLARK'S GREBE, a first New York State record, was found up at Oswego, and
2. Someone claimed to have re-found the recently departed ROSS'S GULL at Tupper Lake.
I REALLY wanted both birds, and I couldn't leave the City until Saturday at the earliest, so Thursday and Friday, well let's just say they dragged a bit ....

So as an aside, I set some birding goals every year, and sometimes I achieve them.  This year's goals were modest, nothing heroic, but I've tried to keep focussed on them:

1.  See more than 1,000 species worldwide (which should help my sadly neglected life list move along a little bit.  I'm at 415 so far this year.).
2.  See more than 300 species in New York State and stay in the top 10 of the eBird 'Hot 100" for the state (a recurring goal that keeps me focussed on local birding - I saw 311 species and was 5th last year).
3. Get my New York State Life List over 400 species (started the year at 390 and had added 4 species before this weekend - Northern Fulmar, Atlantic Puffin, Great Gray Owl and Black Guillemot).
4. Have an eBird county list in every New York County (so far this year I'd added Clinton, Rensselaer, Columbia and Putnam counties to the ones I'd already started, 52 down, 10 to go!)
5. Add 5 new states (or countries) to eBird (so far this year I've added only Bahia, Brazil)

So both these birds would have helped with goal number 3 (and numbers 1 and 2 to some extent).

Saturday, February 25 - Oswego County, etc.

In the car at 5am and slogging across New Jersey and Pennsylvania to hook up into Western New York, and pick up Adrian Boyle in Binghamton at 7:30am.  There must be better ways to spend a Saturday morning, but at least I'm up and running and on my way North toward a hopeful meeting with a Clark's Grebe.  The trip went smoothly, and at 9:48am we pulled into the parking lot on the pier at Oswego Harbor.  There were birders there ... Tom Burke, Gail Benson, Greg Lawrence and others .... I gave one a questioning thumbs up ... a birder gave me a smiley thumbs up.  The bird was there ...

Clark's Grebe - NYS#395

Well that was easy!  Another state bird, my 5th so far in 2017.  Things are looking good for the State List Goal.

After that, let's just say the rest of the day didn't live up to expectations.  It rained, pretty much heavily and solidly for the rest of the day.  Then we pretty much dipped everything we tried to see. Payback for the easy grebe I guess.

A Thayer's Gull had been hanging out for month at Phoenix Lock but wasn't there when we were there (it as seen again today, after we were safely out of the area).  Detailed directions to a roosting Northern Saw-Whet Owl also produced nothing more than a thorough chilling and soaking in torrential rain.  But at least I did get to zig into Chenango County and start a new New York State County List, with 12 species now on my Chenango List.  Hey, its the little things that make you happy!

Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull and Iceland Gull ...
... but no Thayer's Gull
The drive back to the city was miserable .... heavy rain the whole way .... glad I got the grebe but it would be nice if the next potential state bird showed up closer to home ... just saying ...
Oh, and the Ross's Gull rumor ... just that, a rumor ... at least so far.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Another New York Nemesis Bird Surrenders!

Finally seeing perhaps the most common bird I still need in the State.

Saturday, February 18 - Montauk

Everyone has nemesis birds.  Birds that aren't necessarily all that rare and that other people seem to see regularly ... but you don't.  There are a few birds that show up in New York state more or less annually that I have never seen.  Some are what I call "Act of God" birds - a Magnificent Frigatebird or a Swallow-tailed Kite will fly over me one day, when the time is right and if I continue to be very kind to widows, orphans and small furry animals .... right?  Other species should be see-able with enough effort .... in New York, if you sea-watch as often as I do, you should have seen a BLACK GUILLEMOT or two over say the past 26 years, right?  It's a species that is seen almost annually somewhere in the state, usually at Montauk where I do all my sea-watching.  It's also a species I know well and have seen in several other states and countries (so we know I'm not overlooking it).  But in 25+ years of birding in New York State ... not one Black Guillemot had I seen before this weekend ....

Last weekend when I was 9 hours North of Montauk looking at Great Gray Owls, a Black Guillemot was found in the harbor there and seen by many birders.  My reaction was basically ... "D'oh!"  ... totally fits the pattern of many other Black Gullemot sightings I haven't had in New York.  But this bird stuck!  It was seen on Monday, and Tuesday ... and even though I had no chance of getting out to see it before the weekend, I kept checking the status daily, hoping that his would maybe be the one that broke the curse.  The bird was still being seen on Friday and on Saturday I headed out to East Hampton, but with guests, dinner plans, etc. I had no real hope of getting to the bird before Sunday.  Would it stick another day?  I couldn't stand the tension and wait, so I persuaded some of my guests that Saturday lunch in Montauk would be a good idea, bundled 3 non-birders into the Land Rover and chugged out to Montauk at noon on Saturday.

Surf Scoter
What happened next, never happens.  A perfect 'surgical strike' on Montauk with birds lining up to be seen in an improbably short time-window.

As we pulled into Montauk with 30 minutes to spare before lunch I checked the list serves and saw that Tom Burke and Gail Benson had just found a LITTLE GULL with a Bonaparte's Gull flock at Ditch Plains.  Would my guests like to visit the famous surfing beach?  Yes?

Pulled up to Ditch Plains ... bins up ... Bonaparte's Gull flock ... dark wings ... Little Gull ... Suffolk County bird #322 ... nice!

Next stop, down the street to Star Island, where I parked the car and jump out promising to be no more than five minutes.  Bumped into Frank Quevedo (and a birding group from the South Fork Natural History Museum) and Mike Scheibel (the Nature Conservancy guy from the Mashomak Preserve) and they have the BLACK GUILLEMOT all tee'd up in the scope.  Suffolk County bird #323 and and New York State bird #394.  Nearby an Iceland Gull also joined the year list right next to the restaurant we were heading to ... which was closed for the season.  Oops!

Black Guillemot and Iceland Gull

Sunday, February 19 - Montauk and East Hampton

After a fabulous home cooked Italian Dinner - picture home made Carponata, Italian cheeses, Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage sauce and Braised Short-Ribs with Polenta, all served with a great selection of Italian wines and homemade desserts - 8am Sunday morning came way too soon.  Michael Duffy was one of my dinner guests the night before and while everyone else planned to sleep until noon, we got up at 7am and headed off to Montauk to do some birding.

The day started well with a female KING EIDER at Montauk Point and some year birds for me including Great Cormorant and Purple Sandpiper.  We spent more time with the Black Guillemot but spent most of our time looking for the Little Gull (which Michael - who's a huge world lister and probably seen lots of everything we saw that day) was most interested in ... but unfortunately it seemed to have moved on.

Canvasbacks and Pied-billed Grebe in Montauk 

Coming to terms with failing to get the gull, and having to buy ingredients for dinner and be back at the house for lunch, we gave in and ran to East Hampton to shop.  With a few minutes to spare though we stopped at Wainscott to look for a Sandhill Crane that had been spending the Winter there.  I'd looked for this bird before and not seen it, but today after careful scanning I spotted it mostly hidden in the willows and phragmites along the North side of Wainscott Pond.  I have a soft spot for Cranes and this was only the fourth one I'd ever seen on Long Island so a nice bird for the day.

So not a bad haul of birds (Michael tried and dipped again on the Little Gull the next day but did get a Black-headed Gull) but I had to get back to cook a multi-course Portuguese dinner for guests ... lots of pork, clams, and even an olive-oil cake.  The weather was fabulous, the food and wine were delicious, the guests were charming, and the birding was good ... pretty much the perfect weekend.

Perfect Spring weather in East Hampton in February!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Great Gray Owls in New York ... Finally!

One of My Most Wanted State Birds Finally Shows Up ....

Saturday, February 11 - Massena, New York

There are two Robert Moses State Parks in New York.  One is an hour os from my house on Long Island, the other is 7 hours from Manhattan (and 9 hours from East Hampton).  So for me to go to the latter one, means there is a seriously good bird there.

For the past week or so there have been rumors of Great Gray Owls in the very North of New York State.  That in and of itself if not unusual; most years there are rumors of Great Gray Owls but they almost never seem to turn into real birds.  There were birds in the 70s and 90s and a bird in 2013 (that for some reason I didn't chase, probably burned out after my big year) but I haven't really had an opportunity to see this species in New York. This year though, the omens were good with a massive invasion of owls into neighboring Quebec, a handful of New York sightings reported to local newspapers, and then, the moment I'd been waiting 20 years for .... a specific Great Gray Owl record from New York, with detailed location, and photos, when  I was available and interested in chasing it!  Game on!

So at 5am on Saturday I was on my way North, heading for that other Robert Moses State Park, this one near Massena on the St. Lawrence River, North of the Adirondack Mountains at the very Northern tip of New York State.  It took me almost 7 hours to get there, and I pointedly avoided checking the list serve emails on the way up (it's not like I was going to turn back).   As I pulled into the park though I allowed myself a peak at the email and the news was good ... 2 GREAT GRAY OWLS were being seen along one of the roads in the park.  Not ten minutes later I pulled up to a bunch of parked cars and a group of (albeit freezing cold) birders watching the owls.  Oh, why can't they all be this easy - after my horrible year of long-distance dips in 2016 - this was an amazing sight.

There were two owls in view and they pretty much did everything you want owls to do.  They did some perch hunting, flew around a bit, changed perches a lot and came close to the road, and one even did some awesome hovering thing over the (hopefully) vole-infested grass.  Quite a show and a very, very cool to add to my state list (NYS #393).

There weren't really all that many other birds present, a few chickadees, crows, ravens, etc.  and a single Rough-legged Hawk.  I did a quick detour to look for a previously reported Barred Owl (no luck) but bumped into a birder who gave me directions to a NORTHERN SHRIKE which was definitely another great add for the state year list.

Northern Shrike - another backlit photo, sorry ...
So onward.  Super happy with my owls, I headed further North with a  plan to add a few more.  I crossed the US-Canadian border near Cornwall Ontario and headed NorthEast toward Montreal, stopping at a small suburban preserve and adding Great Gray Owl to my Quebec list too (joining previous sightings in Ontario and Minnesota).  Nice day ... but cold ... and I had dinner plans in Montreal.  Plans at perhaps my favorite restaurant in North America ... Joe Beef.

Two very old school dishes at Joe Beef - Flanc de Cerf, Dauphin et Foie Gras
and Gateau Marjelain 

Sunday, February 12 - Adirondacks, New York

Up shocking early after Saturday night's excesses and off to the Adirondacks.  I knew I didn't have much time given a forecast snow storm but figured I'd at least have the morning to bird.  The day started really well when, not long after dawn I crossed the U.S. border and had a Barred Owl hunting by the side of the road somewhere in Clinton County.  So on to the Adirondacks to see if I could clean up the available boreal specialties in a single morning.  Well I can dream can't I?

A quick stop at Oregon Plains Road added a BOREAL CHICKADEE  among the more common locals.  Then on to Tupper Lake where I added EVENING GROSBEAK and to Sabatis Bog which gave me Ruffed Grouse and GRAY JAY.  While I was in Brazil a few weeks ago a ROSS'S GULL showed up at Tupper Lake - it arrived just after I left ... and left just before I got back, allowing every serious birder in NY to see it except me (and Corey Finger who was apparently in Austria).  That's a bird I really want to see in New York, in fact I've never seen one in North America.  So driving through Tupper Lake had a certain bitter-sweet element to it, and I did scan the lake, just in case .... but no dream gull.
Birding cars aren't meant to be neat and clean ....
The snow also started to come down hard at that point though and I reluctantly decided to start heading South.  That unfortunately took me into the storm and the next 7 hours were a pretty stressful drive through heavy snow (almost a white-out blizzard at some points), bad roads, traffic jams, car accidents, and other wintery travel fun.  There was a brief highlight when I saw two BOHEMIAN WAXINGS in Indian Pond, but otherwise the ride South to the City was long and stressful.

Not a bad haul of birds though.  A New York State bird, 9 NYS year birds, and a smattering of new county birds on both sides of the border.  By no means did I do a boreal clean-up though - couldn't find a Black-backed Woodpecker, and came up short on Winter Finches other than the grosbeak.  Also, when I got back to New York, I found out that Joan Collins had had two male (!) Pine Grosbeaks sitting out on the road at Sabatis Bog just after I left.   So while I got a lot of stuff on my quick swing through the Adirondacks, I clearly would have seen a lot more had I birded it properly.  Still, always happy to have a reason to go back to the Adirondacks (or Montreal for that matter) so I'm sure I'll find a time to head back up there again.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

White-winged Potoos and 2 Days at Porto Seguro

Bahia, Brazil (Part 2)

After leaving Boa Nova we settled in for another long day of driving, this one without benefit of target birds so pretty much just a long slog down to the coast.  Out destination with the picturesque seaside town of Porto Segura (which is essentially where Brazil was founded around 1500) a sleepy place with long beaches, lots of palm trees and and lots of mellow old world character.  After a long day of driving, the charms of the Best Western Shalimar Beach Hotel, which included a pool, abundant caipirinhas and some good Brazilian seafood, outweighed any chortles about the very 1970s name.  A few good bottles of Brazilian Cabernet later, we were all wiped out, ready for sleep, and excited to explore new habitat in the morning.

Tuesday, January 31 - Estação Veracel, Porto Seguro

Our birding destination for the next two days was the famous Estação Veracel reserve and some adjoining areas.  Targets included some hummingbirds, cotingas, and a star nightbird.  So at first light we were off and walking the roads, scanning tree-tops and checking out flowering bushes with high hopes.  WHITE-WINGED COTINGA turned out to be fairly easy to see and we picked up five of them over the two days, although most were distant as cotingas tend to be and we were never able to come up with the rarer Banded Cotinga despite some serious searching.

White-winged Cotinga - Male (above) and Female (below)
Difficult birds to photograph at long range int he tops of trees. 

The area was very birdy though and yielded such goodies as HOOK-BILLED HERMIT, Red-browed Parrot, Bare-throated Bellbird, and the distinct local forms of Turquoise Tanager and Ringed Woodpecker.  We also had an up close and personal experience with a couple of Barred Forest-Falcons, and a really nice mix of forest species overall.

King Vulture and Turquoise Tanager (the White-bellied Atlantic Forest form)

The target bird for this part of the trip was indisputably the local, rare, and hard to see WHITE-WINGED POTOO.  While the species ranges widely across the Amazon, it's not common or reliable anywhere, and there just simply aren't that many places where you can have a good shot at seeing one.

Estação Veracel is one of those places though as Brett Whitney had found a bird here several years ago and that same bird (or it's descendants) has been regularly seen by birders year after year.  So just before dark we drove up to "the snag" where the bird is usually seen and, after it got dark Brett whistled the potoo song and we waited to see if the bird would give us an audience too.  There was some tension as the group had missed the bird the previous year, but I was optimistic, it just felt good.

The forest at night is usually quite loud, although most of the noise comes from cicadas, crickets and frogs, not birds or large mammals.  There were a couple of Common Pauraques calling away though and a single Short-tailed Nighthawk called a few times nearby but remained unseen.  After a good 15 minutes of listening, I heard what I though was a response and raised a hand as a silent signal to Brett.  Moments later, he stopped whistling and whispered to the group that the bird was nearby and just behind us.  From there on in, we all had to stay still, silent, and stay focussed on the snag, the tension eventually breaking when two Potoos sailed over us, silhouetted agains the starry sky, and came into the trees infront os us calling and singing, occasionally sitting up in the spot lights and giving us excellent views of this most wanted species.

My best shot of the White-winged Potoo - you can sort of see what it is ....

Wednesday, February 1 - Estação Veracel, Porto Seguro

After the excitement of the Potoos, a few too many Caipirinhas and some good Brazilian wine, we dragged ourselves up again for another crack at some of the birds we still needed at Veracel.  We never did get the Banded Cotinga or the Racquet-tailed Coquette, but we did get great perched views of a HOOK-BILLED HERMIT, and more decent views of several other local specialties.  One of the local park employees told us he'd seen Harpy Eagle within the last year - perched, and eating a sloth! - so the this piece of habitat is still clearly in decent shape and very important.

Swallow-winged Puffbird and White-crowned Manakin

Away from the birds, we did actually manage to see a few mammals on this last day.  For a Neotropical Trip, we didn't see much in the way of 'non-birds' during the week - a few Guianan Squirrels, a handful of Geoffrey's Tamarinds, two Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths and a (lifer for me on the last day) BAHIAN PORCUPINE were the only mammals we saw.

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth and
Bahian Porpupine (which stubbornly hid it's head from photographs)

All too soon though it was time to head to the airport, fly to Salvador, and later for me, fly to São Paulo where the Fazano Hotel, D.O.M. restaurant, and business meetings all waited.  A big change of pace from life in the forest, but I'm very glad I got the chance to sneak a week of birding into the schedule.  Big thanks for Field Guides and Brett Whitney for making it happen.  I've birded SouthEast Brazil several times before - this brought my Brazil list to 602 species - but I'm sure it won't be the last time I bird here.  Great country, awesome food, great people, beautiful scenery, and amazing birds .... oh, and don't forget the caipirinhas ....

Postscript:  I did finally get some Vatapá back in São Paulo where celebrity chef and Brazilian food icon Alex Atala added it to a Palmito dish as part of the 16-course "maximus' tasting menu at D.O.M. (along with his signature formiga/ant dish).

Wild Amazonian Ants that taste just like Lemongrass and
Palmetto with Varapá

Alex Atala - Brazilian Food Master and owner/chef at D.O.M., currently ranked
the number 12 restaurant in the world.