August 2022: Birding in Amapá and Pará in the Brazilian Amazon
Back to Brazil, with the talented and ever-patient Pablo Vieira Cerqueira, for an almost month-long trip covering multiple states and cities. I had a bunch of goals for this trip; to finally get to the lowland Amazon (after a dozen trips to Brazil, I'd never seen the Amazon river or a pink river-dolphin), to chase a specific rarity in the SouthEast, and to catch up with friends in São Paulo and Vitoria.
Saturday, August 6 - Sunday, August 7
Two days in São Paulo. Rest and recovery, catching up with friends, and a visit to one of my three favorite restaurants in the world, the marvelous D.O.M.
|Officially on vacation ...|
Monday, August 8 - Macapá
I felt very proud of myself. I left São Paulo super early, hopped a flight to Brasilia then changed planes and headed up to Macapá where I even managed to negotiate getting an Uber to my hotel (all in Portuguese). Pablo showed up later that day and we jumped in a rental car and headed inland, away from the Amazon, and ended up in a semi-retired mining town called Serra do Navio where a very basic hotel and one restaurant stayed open largely to support the maintenance crews that still worked at the mine. The presence of the mining operation had preserved a decent chunk of forest which would otherwise almost certainly have been lost over the years. So we had all we needed, the rooms were basic but the food was tasty, and those maintenance guys looked after the trails we planned to bird the next few days.
|My first view of the Amazon river believe it or not, after a dozen trips to|
Brazil, I finally got to see the Amazon.
Tuesday, August 9 - Wednesday, August 10 - Serra do Navio
Two days on the trails and my first time properly in the Guianan Shield meant I had a ton of life birds waiting for me. We started along a dirt road through flooded forest looking for Band-tailed Antshrike, a real rarity in Brazil, known only from this one site. We dipped this time, but I hardly noticed because we quickly racked up a bunch of other lifers for me including Double-banded Pygmy-Tyrant, Todd's Sirystes, McConnell's Spinetail, and Guianan Streaked-Antwren. Moving on, we worked a more heavily vegetated trail and the birds kept coming, with Guianan Trogon, Brown-bellied Stipplethroat, Todd's Antwren, and (the Hellmayr's form of) Black-headed Antbird all joining the burgeoning list. Fun, busy, productive birding.
|Black-headed Antbird and Brown-bellied Stipplethroat|
As we moved down the trail we kept encountering a most disturbing noise, like a tortured cow lowing from the forest. Eventually, I just had to see one and so Pablo played some tape bringing in a Capuchinbird, a creature straight from the Henson Studios, a truly bizarre looking muppet of a bird. With its bald blue face poking out of fluffy rich red-brown plumage it truly looked odd enough, but add the cow-like call and it really qualified as just, well, silly. What a truly bizarre creature ...
Ended day one with try number two for Band-tailed Antshrike, and dipped again.
The next morning gave us Tiny Tyrant-Manakin and a long skirmish with a fast moving antbird flock eventually yielded that superstar of the Amazon, a White-plumed Antbird, definitely one of the ant-things I most wanted to see here. We also had Rufous-throated Antbird and Common Scale-backed Antbird on this trail, and Olive-backed Foliage-gleaner nearby, then as we emerged into the sunlight we added Caica Parrot and Guianan Toucanet. In the afternoon we gave the Band-tailed Antshrike a third try and again came up short but we did get Smoky-fronted Tody-Flycatcher as a consolation prize.
|Common Scale-backed Antbird|
Thursday, August 11 - Porto Grande
Back to the Amazon today and a return to Macapá for the next few nights (nicer hotel, better food). Made a long stop in some dryer habitat on the way back though for two specific target lifers. Rufous-crowned Elaenia popped up almost as soon as we got out of the car, along with noisy and conspicuous Rusty-backed Antwrens. We had to work harder for Black Manakin though and covered some ground before eventually chasing down a female bird, declaring victory, and continuing our journey without seeing a male.
|Rusty-backed Antwren and Rufous-crowned Elaenia|
Friday, August 12 - Santana
Today was a full day of birding along the edge of the Amazon in what looked to me like grubby second growth and cleared fields but apparently contained important relics of a rare flooded forest biome. It wasn't the flooded forest you see on TV, with dolphins swimming through giant trees, rather a marshy, dense, low scrubby sort of forest that clung on in patches and strips between fields. We did see a lot of birds though, some of them quite good ones.
|Crimson-hooded Manakin and Glossy Antshrike|
Among the highlights here were stunning Crimson-hooded Manakin, Scaled Spinetail, and the extremely local White-tailed Goldenthroat, a very good bird for Brazil. We also took time to stop and listen for parrots and eventually, after covering a lot of miles, bumped into a group of Short-tailed Parrots, not the most colorful of parrot but another life bird for me.
Saturday, August 13
Mostly a travel day but it was my birthday and I was hoping for a birthday lifer. Some quick morning birding along local roads did the trick and yielded a Golden-bellied Euphonia, perhaps not the most spectacular or rare bird of the trip but hey, it's nice to get a lifer on your birthday.
Sunday, August 14 - Belém
The flights just didn't work out today so we had a morning in Belém before taking the evening flight down to another mining operation at Carajás. This set-up was very much active and very much larger than the last, with impressive security, a whole workers' city, and a very nice hotel with expansive buffet dinner and breakfast. Mixed feelings about the mines, the actual mine here covered a lot of ground, but then so did the protected forest and the latter almost certainly would not be here still without the former.
I'd been feeling a bit under the weather the past few days and sure enough, by the time I got to Carajás it was pretty obvious that I'd picked up another bout something (a mild COVID or a close cousin). Had a long night of 'fever-sleep' then spent the next 3 days feeling flu-y (and probably looking, and sounding, like an extra from a low-budget zombie movie) but Pablo and I decided to ignore it as much as we could, keep to ourselves, wear masks in cars/hotel, and press on ... and overall it turned out to be a pretty mild bout compared to the last time. The things you do for birds.
Monday, August 15 - Tuesday, August 16 - FLONA de Carajás (forest trails)
Two days to explore the forest of Carajás might have been a little better if I'd been feeling better. As it was, I felt had no energy and dragged along the trails behind the guides, pausing to look at birds when told to, resting where I could, and generally not enjoying the experience very much. There were some great birds here and Pablo and the local guide worked hard to get me on then (especially seeing as I wasn't exactly at my sharpest) but by the second day even Pablo has started to adjust the itinerary with longer, more ambitious trails swapped for short walks near the car and a number of possible birds quietly dropped from the conversation. I should probably have been resting in bed but I didn't want to come all this way and miss the target birds. In the end it was a bit of a compromise; I did see some good birds but didn't always have a lot of fun doing it.
The star bird here was definitely the White Bellbird a big white cotinga that sits on the top of trees and belts out a 'zoink' call that can be heard miles away. We heard one as soon as we got out of the car but it turned out to be surprisingly hard to see in the canopy when viewed from the ground. In the end it took us a half hour of careful peering and moving around to find a gap in the canopy where we could actually see it. An amazing creature though and worth a dose of 'warbler neck'.
Among the other good, or new birds we saw were White-throated Woodpecker, Natterer's Slaty-Antshrike, Spotted Tanager, White-crested Guan, Black-breasted Gnateater, Ornate Stipplethroat, Snethlage's Today-Tyrant, Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin ... the list goes on. A big personal favorite for me was the Wing-banded Antbird, a weirdo among ant-things that reminded me of a Rail-Babbler as it tottered along through the leaf litter seemingly oblivious to us admiring apes. Also, it was here that I passed another personal milestone which I'd hoped to hit on this trip when Opal-crowned Manakin became my 1,000th species for Brazil (my first 1,000 species country in eBird!).
One night we did some night birding, somewhat curtailed because my stamina limited the day. Still, we did get some great night birds including the recently described (not yet split in Clements) Xingu Screech-Owl, a Black-banded Owl, multiple Pauraques and Blackish Nightjars, a Great Potoo and even a Cryptic Forest-Falcon thrown in for good measure. Imagine what we could have had if we'd been able to stay out longer.
Wednesday, August 17 - Vila Tapete Verde / Parauapebas (Núcleo Urbano de Carajás)
Still in Carajás but birding some disturbed habitat outside the forest where we got good looks at a currently undescribed form of Amazonian Spinetail accompanied by a chorus of Rothman's Titi-Monkeys. Later, in the center of town we added Chestnut-headed Chachalaca to my list (almost done with Chachalacas ... one to go ... if they don't split some more). There were plenty more birds to see here so I'll hopefully come back to the forest one day but we still did end up with a great list and a pile of life birds for me.
|Chestnut-headed Chachalaca in suburban gardens.|
|Brazilians are VERY fond of chocolate.|
Thursday, August 18th - Travel Day
More driving, lots of it. Then another flight that ended up in Manaus, a city I'd long wanted to see. I still do want to see it though because all we really saw was the airport and the nearby Ibis Hotel ... so another thing on the 'come back for' list ...
Friday, August 19 to Tuesday, August 23 - P.N. de Amazônia
An early flight and another long drive on dusty roads brought us finally to Amazônia National Park and a simple but lovely little guest house on the river that became our home for the next five days.
|The view from the 'bar', we saw two species of river-dolphin here ...|
We had five days to work the forest trails here and dropped into a pattern of doing one trail at dawn, coming back for lunch and siesta then hitting a second trail late afternoon through dinner. The weather was challenging, super hot and incredibly humid meant that things got pretty quiet during the middle of the day. The hotel location was so lovely though that I didn't at all mind sitting at on the river bank during the heat of the day. Although it was tough birding we did get a lot of great birds, including a number of star-birds that stood out as real accomplishments given the conditions. Among the highlights here ...
Brown-Chested Barbet in a canopy vine tangle. (Green-backed) Dark-winged Trumpeters on the trail and Ihering's Antwren in a mixed canopy flock.
A major target here was the elusive Pale-faced Bare-eye, a really difficult bird to find in the Amazon but our local guide had heard one in a flock along one of the trails. We spend a full morning working up and down the trail, walked miles, sweated pints, and saw ... well ... very little of note except a few Saki Monkeys. As so often the way though, we slogged back to the car closer to mid-day in a silent forest and, when we were almost there, heard a fast moving understory flock with calling Harlequin Antbirds. Now this species is a spectacular ant-thing and was a lifer for me, on any other day it would have been the day's star but today we were looking around them hoping for more, and sure enough after chasing the flock for 15 minutes, a Pale-faced Bare-eye popped up and crossed the tail. Humidity, what humidity ...
We also spent a full morning on Black-bellied Gnateater, a brute of a gnateater and another really hard to find bird. Once again the guide had a territory staked out but it still took us most of the morning to get some decent views in the shadows of the forest floor. The humidity here was truly oppressive and very uncomfortable eventually knocking out my camera, simply overwhelmed by the condensation, and so no photos for me for a few days while everything dried out back at the lodge.
No Neotropical birding trip is complete without a battle with antpittas and, with two target species here, we devoted two full afternoons to games of cat-and-mouse with the mischievous little buggers. Tapajos Antpitta surrendered relatively easily but Amazonian Antpitta battled us across two days before giving us a glimpse and joining the list. Standing motionless in a blind for hours in that hear was not a fun experience but least, and the end of the day, we had cold caipirinhas to look forward too and our victory was duly celebrated.
|Birds on the sand islands in the Tapajos River . Sand-colored|
Nighthawks, three species of martins
One day we did a boat ride on the river, a pleasant break from the sticky heat. The sandy river islands have some specific habitats, small ephemeral forests between floods, and we were able to winkle out Amazonian Tyrannulet, Blackish-Gray Antshrike and Black-chinned Antbird in these miniature worlds. We also saw Tucuxi and Pink River-Dolphins and enjoyed a cool breeze on a moving boat. Luxury ...
On our final day we crossed the Tapajos River again and hiked trails on the other side in search of two specific targets. Tapajos Hermit popped up pretty quickly along the trail but we had to hike a distance to a specific site and play tape to get a shy Tapajos Fire-eye to break cover and give good views. The fire-eye was another of the 'hard to see' birds here and we did really well with our targets, getting all the main ones. Overall a great, if somewhat sticky, visit. And once again, I'll get a Harpy Eagle and a Jaguar (neither of which I've ever seen) on the 'next' visit.