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 Marselan 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.

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