Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Less Visited Corners of Senegal

January 2023: Senegal

Part 2 - The South East and the South West

After the Sahel adventure we aimed to squeeze every last bird out of Senegal and so made a long drive to the South East of the country before hooking back to the seldom-visited South Western corner.

Sunday, February 5 - Travel to the SouthEast

After a final morning birding forests around Tabacouta it was time to head off to new parts of the country.  A long drive was punctuated by frequent birding stops and even a few goodies like Sahel Paradise-Whydah and Rüppell's Griffon.  As we travelled, the habitat slowly changed with more trees, more raptors, and a more typically 'African feel' with rocky outcroppings, thorn trees, and small villages scattered along the route.  Out based for the next three nights was a very comfortable Relais et Châteux hotel in Kedougou which was obviously the hub for traveling businessmen from France and beyond.  For us it was a great base to explore the local area and get to grips with it's special birds.

Having time to spare in the afternoon we went to a local 'stakeout' for Mali Firefinch, an area of rugged cliffs were we hiked up in search of water sources what would attract the birds.  Sure enough the fire finches appeared on cue and so we settled in to scan the rocky slopes in the hope of some Neumann's Starlings.  While we waited we enjoyed Adamawa Turtle-Dove, Mocking Cliff-Chat, and even a Lanner Falcon along the cliffs.  Ethan, as usual, spotted the starlings when a group of 18 (a record count for the country in eBird) moved along the cliffs above us giving excellent scope views.

Mali Firefinch and Piapiac.

Monday - Wednesday, February 6-8 - Kedougou area

Three days to explore the habitats around Kedougou saw us driving roads through the sandy forest and walking off-road along cattle/game trails to get closer to the birds.  We saw a lot of new species with notables including Dorst's Cisticola, Sun Lark, and Heuglin's Masked-Weaver.  The key event here though was a day-trip to the permanent water at Dindefelo which boasts a number a special birds.  A pair of Willcock's Honeyguides have taken up residence along the stream here, a tiny spot on the range map way outside their normal range, and we found them easily in their 'usual' tree.  Further up the stream, a thorough search finally turned up the hoped for Dybowski's Twinspots and they uncharacteristically stuck around to give us good looks and even some photos.  This is a bird with quite a broad range on the map but with practically no reliable sites to go find one on demand, having them here and cooperative was a real treat.  One of the highlights of the whole trip even if our excitement was perhaps a little confusing to the local villagers who use the stream here to do their laundry.

OK, not the best photo ... but they're Dybowki's Twinspots!

Thursday/Friday, February 9/10 - Wassadou

Turning around and heading back West for a morning of driving, along with a few good roadside birds like Abyssinian Ground-Hornbill, brought us to the famous Campement de Wassadou.  The delightful lodge, high on a bluff at a bend in the Gambia River has a stunning concentration of birds gathered at the permanent water.  There are also hippos, baboons, antelopes and other wildlife, something we saw very little of otherwise on our trip.

Guinea Baboon and Bushbuck.

After a nice lunch and a siesta we gathered at the boat dock for our 'touristy' boat ride, fending off several groups of non-birding French adventure-tourists to get the boat we'd booked.  Even with our first choice, the boat was sitting pretty low in the water but it seemed calm enough and so we drifted off down the river hoping the hippos kept to themselves.

Pied, Gray-headed and Blue-breasted Kingfishers.

There is something very pleasant about drifting down a river in a canoe, birds are relatively tame and sit close without flushing, and there's always the chance of surprising some other wildlife as you drift quietly round a bend.  Highlights here included Egyptian Plovers and Senegal Thick-knees, many kingfishers and bee-eaters, Hamerkop, and Wattled and White-crowned Lapwings.  The star bird though took a little more effort, a roosting White-backed Night-Heron was so well hidden that, even though the boatman knew exactly where it was, he had to re-position the canoe several times to give each person a glimpse into the narrow window in the dense bushes that allowed a view.  

Egyptian Plover and Hamerkop.

That night we spent a little time hoping for the resident Pel's Fishing-Owls but unfortunately drew a blank ... this bird is on its way to being a nemesis bird of sorts for me, I've now missed it in several places.  Next morning I woke up several hours before sunrise and spotlighted around the camp and river hoping that the owls would be more cooperative, but alas no.

In the daylight though we walked back down the river and picked up a few things we'd missed the day before, most notably African Finfoot (completes my personal set of the three finfeet? finfoots?), Bronze-tailed Starling and Oriole Warbler.  A tough spot to tear yourself away from but eventually we had to move on.  Lovely location, highly recommended.

Red-throated Bee-eater and Northern Carmine Bee-eater.

Saturday, February 11 - Forêt de Djibelor

But onwards towards our new base at Ziguinchor, stopping to check out some forest patches and fragments.  The forest here, what was left of it anyway, was wetter, and the birds were quite different with many new species joining our Senegal lists.  This area of Senegal had been largely closed to outsiders for much of the last 30-40 years because of a local insurgency and general instability.  Things seem to have settled down a bit now so we felt good about exploring, especially in a place where the birds were so little studied.  Unfortunately though, the peace that allowed us access to the area had also been a very bad thing for the forests which were being cleared at an alarming rate; some forest patches we had been directed to bird were simply no longer there.  Still, we were in new country and were going to make the most of it enjoying birds like Ahanta Spurfowl, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Black-headed Paradise Flycatcher and even a day-calling Verraux's Eagle-Owl.

Sunday, February 12 - Mpak

Early next morning saw us in a scrap of forest and farmland right up against the border with Guinea-Bissau and me trying unsuccessfully to persuade the group to head down one of the smugglers trails to do some 'border-flirting' and get a new country on the eBird map (smarter heads prevailed).  Our target here was the Turati's Boubou, a bird recently discovered in Senegal and known from this one small area along the border.  We headed into the forest full of expectations and started to add a lot of new West African birds to our Senegal lists.  We had Western Nicator and LeafloveGreen Crombec and Green HyliaWestern BluebillPiping Hornbill and a really nice selection of forest birds ... but no boubou.  Admitting defeat we returned to the vehicle and stopped for a chat at the village (always good to be social and seek permission from local villagers, wherever you are in the world).  In conversation with the village chief, Ethan mentioned the boubou, showed him a picture and played him the song and the chief surprised us all by saying he knew the bird well and that we had been looking in the wrong place.  He led us to an area of village fields with some scattered scrub patches and sure enough, we had multiple singing Turati's Boubou and we able to pull some in to tape.  Local knowledge trumps the field guide yet again.

Green Hylia in the green forest

We also managed to squeeze in a visit to some local grasslands where we added a surprise record of Black-backed Cisticola (first eBird record for Senegal ... but then this area is less studied given the lack of access over the years), Yellow-throated LongclawPlain-backed Pipit and a nice selection of marsh birds.

Monday, February 13 - Diembéring Ecoparc

Our last day of birding and a few more targets to chase down.  Our main goal here with the Capuchin Babbler, a vexing species that may in fact be 2 or 3 different species.  It's also a bit of a skulker but after a couple of hours of work we managed to get a cooperative family group and get some good views.

Capuchin Babbler ... skulking ...

And then the trip was over and I flew back to Dakar, on to Paris, then on to New York.  We really did cover a lot of ground in Senegal and saw some very special birds that not many see.  Lovely country and gracious, welcoming people (with the exception of the police who were a little bribe-hungry, even by African standards, and very zealous with their traffic stops), but also a little depressing with the desertification in the North and deforestation in the South.  There were some wonderful birds to see though and I really enjoyed the trip, glad I went.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Quail Plovers and Golden Nightjars in the Sahel

January 2023: Senegal (and Mauritania, sort of ...) 

Part 1 - The NorthWest

As a young birder in the UK, yearning for opportunities to travel, I used to look jealously at the early birding package holidays offered to the Gambia.  All those exotic West African birds so close to home but alas well beyond my financial means at the time.  These days, while folks still go to Gambia, the surrounding country of Senegal has become more of the go-to birding destination, offering a number of species not available along the narrow Gambia River.  Some friends had been in recent years so when the dates of a Wings trip, led by intrepid young world birder Ethan Kistler meshed with my calendar I took the plunge and booked the trip.

Saturday, January 28 - Popenguine

A direct flight from New York to Dakar, well that was easy.  Today was basically the 'arrival and buffer' day for the group to assemble at a comfortable hotel in the Dakar suburb of Popenguine.  Of course with a group of keen birders all arriving on time some local birding was bound to happen and so we checked out some local reserves and scraped together a lit of 65 species in the local area, finishing with spectacular Standard-winged Nightjar quite close to the hotel.

Sunday/Monday, January 29/30 - Richard Toll area

Some early local birding around town added mostly more of the same but good views of Gosling's Bunting were a treat,  Then we headed North into the fabled Sahel region where goats seems to outnumber people and green vegetation is but a distant memory in these degraded lands slowly devolving into desert under the weight of human and livestock pressure. 

The birds definitely had an African feel with Greater Blue-eared and Chestnut-bellied Starlings, Piapiacs, Abyssinian Rollers and Western Red-billed Hornbills.  A visit to the 'zone aéroport' in Richard Toll added some really nice Sahel specialties with Cricket Longtail and Fulvous Chatterer both showing very well and Eurasian Thick-knees and Temmink's Courser scattered through the scrub.  Even though it was a long day, it felt like we were exploring, new vistas, new habitats, and new birds so a group of very happy birders arrived at our hotel on the banks of the Senegal River feeling pretty good about what we'd seen.

Habitat shot with Eurasian Thick-knees

One of the traditions on these Senegal trips is a 'virtual' visit to Mauritania.  If you look at other birder's eBird maps, many have some birds seemingly just across the border but most, myself included, were actually safely scoping from the Senegal side of the river.  Is this kosher?  Maybe not, but it's fun and even has a popular term to describe it, it's called 'border flirting' and it certainly added interest to our evening at the hotel.  In the end we were able to spot around 30 species across the river, making sure that each species was over the opposite bank and safely in Mauritania as the border here hugs the North side of the river.  Nothing very exciting but I do enjoy that large, pleasingly yellow block on my eBird map.

Sudan Golden-Sparrow

The next day we kept picking away at the special Sahel birds in the area, tracking down Sennar Penduline-Tit and Little Gray Woodpecker among thorn trees completely devoid of any sort of undergrowth and swarmed with ravenous goats.  We also had an owl experience here.  I almost never find owls and joke that I simply do not have the 'owl gene' but today was an exception and I looked up to see a Northern White-faced Owl and, as we got closer realized it was actually group of three of them.  This never happens for me.

Sennar Penduline-Tit and Northern White-faced Owls

Our last stop of the day was the fabled Diatar Track, famous as the 'go to' site for Golden Nightjar. Unfortunately we'd had depressing news the day before, suggesting that much of the habitat has just been destroyed for some sort of development.  When we arrived it seemed that the reports were true, construction equipment on site and most the habitat stripped bare.  There were a few scraps of habitat left however so we formed a line and walked-in hoping to flush a straggler and sure enough, not 10 minutes later, Ethan shouted out that he had a nightjar and we all enjoyed wonderful views.  How long this site remains a 'go to' spot, who knows, but I feel we were lucky and I was very glad to see this spectacular goatsucker up close.

Golden Nightjar

Back to the hotel to celebrate and get ready to head back South in the morning.  The NorthWest corner of Senegal was good to us, now to try some of the other areas.

Despite the French colonial influence, the food in Senegal was more
'hearty' than distinctive.  The beer was good though ... 

Tuesday, January 31 / Wednesday, February 1 - P.N. du Djoudj

I'd been looking forward to this site for a while.  'The Djoudj' as it's known is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and globally important habitat for water birds, the first really major wetland South of the Sahara on the Atlantic Coast.  As such it's stuffed with birds in Winter, quite literally hundreds of thousands of birds crammed into its lagoons and scrapes.  It's quite a spectacle and we basically had a day-and-a-half to enjoy some really high quality birding.

Our hotel at 'The Djoudj'.

The first afternoon we couldn't wait for the baking mid-day heat to ease a little and to get stuck in to the birds we could see and hear in the distance while we had lunch at our hotel.  Once we got to the scrapes, the birding did not disappoint with tens of thousands of White-faced Whistling Ducks anchoring a supporting cast of duck species, thousands of Greater and Lesser Flamingoes and a good selection of shorebirds all close and easy to see.  There were even some lifers to some in the group, with Greater Painted-Snipes in the marshes and for me too when we were able to tease out a River Prinia, a bird with a small and scattered distribution across the Sahel.

The next morning we were up early and off for a full-day in the reserve.  The day started with a boat ride, meant to show the spectacle of breeding Great White Pelicans to tourists but also an excellent way to get into the marshes and see more birds.  In the end, the pelicans alone were worth the price of admission, flocks numbering in the thousands feeding, swirling overhead and noisily squabbling at the colonies.  There were plenty of other water birds too with African Darters, African Spoonbills, Spur-winged Geese and a host of others all easy to see from the boats.  By the time we got back to the dock I think we all felt we'd had our fill of birds but a whole afternoon, and some key target species lay ahead.

Great White Pelicans.

A West African Nile Monitor, a herp spectacular enough to
distract us from the birds.

The boat ride, and the area nearby, also gave us a few non-birds for the list.  Intricately patterned Nile Monitors basked alongside the channel and at one point we encountered a mother Warthog with her family enjoying the peace of a reedy sanctuary.  Most interesting to me though were the African Golden Wolves which sat, seemingly unafraid near the tracks, dozing through the heat of the day.  I'd heard that there was a change to see this species here but had assumed they'd be nocturnal and so expected no more than a glimpse of a canid crossing a trail at dawn perhaps.  In the end they were quite confident and allowed a relatively close approach in the van.  Always good to see a wild canid.


African Golden Wolf.  Once considered a jackal, more recent DNA analysis suggests this is a complex
species with DNA from Ethiopian Wolf and (European-type) Gray Wolf.  A little like our Eastern
Coyotes, its lineage suggests a bit of a journey.

In the afternoon we headed to some scrubby areas with more lagoons and enjoyed thousands of dabbling ducks (8,000 Garganey!), more flamingoes, a good selection of waders and even flushed a number of Short-eared Owls.  The targets here though were bigger birds and after failing to track down an Arabian Bustard by line-walking through the scrub we were gifted when one of the local guides spotted one walking behind us while we were scanning for shorebirds.  As for Black-crowned Crane, I was feeling pretty good about myself for spotting two incredibly distant birds but we soon had better looks when we bumped into a flock of over 100 feeding together in a single dry lagoon.  All in all a very satisfying day of birding.

Black-crowned Cranes and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

Thursday, January 2 - St. Louis

Mostly a travel day but productive stops added goodies like Allen's Gallinule and African Pygmy-Goose.  We ended up in the St. Louis area and, having made good time, decided to give the local star attraction a quick go to 'take some of the pressure off' our needing to find all the birds the next day.  As it turns out we did remarkably well, finding five (!) Quail-Plovers, Desert Cisticola and Horsefield's Bushlarks at our first stop.  Well that went well.


Quail-Plover was undoubtedly my most wanted bird on this trip.  It is of course not a quail and definitely not a plover, but people 'think' it's probably a diminutive Button-Quail, a Hemipode if you like.  They are most definitely unique and even their behavior is eccentric, the shuffle and dance their way across the sandy floor of their scrubby home.  Having seen them only in books I had thought they were larger than they actually were and flushed two before I realized what I was looking at.  We had a few on the ground eventually and got our fill watching them.  What a cool bird, definitely worth the trip.

Friday, February 3 - Forêt Classée de Kousmar

Onwards and a second visit to good Quail-Plover habitat yielded two more (!) Quail-Plovers and a Saville's Bustard then more driving took us to the Kaolak area and lunch at our hotel. In the afternoon we headed out onto sun-baked scrubby plains (Mad Dogs and Englishmen?) but were rewarded with Saville's and White-bellied Bustards and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks before heading to the area's major birding attraction.

Saville's Bustard.

At dusk, most nights, a small island nearby hosts an impressive roost of thousands of Scissor-tailed Kites and Lesser Kestrels.  We arrived early but one look at the ancient leaky dugout canoe, and muddy banks of the waterway we'd have to cross to get to the island, convinced us to stage our watch safely from the river bank.  The kites did come though, hundreds if not thousands, and higher than some nights but it was a spectacle for the raptor-inclined.

Saturday/Sunday, February 4/5 - Toubacouta area

The famous Saloum Delta and some mouthwatering target birds ahead.  Our main goal this morning was the scarce, and hard to find White-crested Bittern (sometimes White-crested Tiger-Heron).  This is a trophy bird indeed, thinly spread and prone to hiding in dense mangrove forests, I was really excited at the chance to see this one.  We set off for our morning boat-ride full of anticipation and had a great morning in the mangroves with Goliath Heron, Mouse-brown Sunbird and Swallow-tailed Bee-eater among the highlights.  The boatmen clearly knew where the bitterns were often seen and we worked back and for past one area in particular but alas today there were no bitterns.  After a rather lavish consolation lunch, we tried again and went to a couple of new areas where Ethan pulled the rabbit from the hat and spotted a bittern in the mangroves close to the waterway.  This bird wasn't at all shy and allowed us to pull the boat up quite close for photos and close views for all.  A very nice bird to add.

Goliath Heron and African Darter

White-crested Bittern

And so on to the East of Senegal ....

Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Quest for the Cherry-throated Tanager

 August 2022: A Trip to Espirito Santo for a Very Special Bird

Sometimes you go somewhere on a whim.  I had never been to the state of Espírito Santo, Brazil despite having been to all the states surrounding it.  An old friend who lives in the capital city Vitória saw my eBird map and concluded, not unreasonably, that I was avoiding him somehow.  Ironically I had actually long wanted to go, having made some financial donations to the conservation of the Red-billed Curassow many years before, but in the end it was another bird that gave me the excuse to finally visit.

Thursday, August 25 - Domingos Martins / Pedra Azul

The temperature was a delight, so refreshingly chilly compared to the oppressive heat and humidity of the Amazon basin.  After a long flight first to São Paulo, then to Viiória, Pablo and I had picked up a rental car and headed off into countryside more reminiscent of Northern Italy then of the lowlands of Brazil we had left behind.  A little local birding, then we made our way to our hotel, a delightful place celebrating a family that had emigrated to Brazil from the Italian Alps and which even boasted a fondue restaurant.  

Some very hearty local fare for dinner ... we had left the land of
rice and beans behind ...

After a substantial local dinner we opted to walk a bit and digest some of those carbs so decided to do a little owling.  The suburban setting didn't seem all that promising but the in the end we heard a Black-capped Screech-Owl so declared victory and then settled in for a well earned night of sleep, ready for adventures tomorrow.

Friday, August 26 - Reserva Kaetés

The Cherry-throated Tanager has a total world population of perhaps 12 individuals, all of which live in one tiny reserve in Espírito Santo.  For some reason this species had been on my mind all year.  A nesting pair had been photographed the previous year and the photos just peaked my interest.  Eventually I had to ask Pablo if he was interested in making a trip to see it, figuring his connections as a bird researcher might open the door and allow us to visit.

As it turns out, the local researchers from Instituto Marcos Daniel, the organization that had established and manages the reserve, were delighted to have some birders come and visit to see their work and their birds.  It not being the breeding season, we knew the birds would not hanging around a nest site, but we also knew that they would be somewhere in the vicinity (they literally have no-where else to go unfortunately) so we allowed ourselves two days to walk the trails at the reserve and see the tanagers.

Spot-breasted Antvireo and While-collared Foliage-gleaner

The technique for seeing tanagers when they aren't nesting seemed straightforward.  Walk back-and-for along the two long, straight trails that run through the reserve and intersect at the center.  The tanagers, likely in a small family group will be moving around and calling as they feed and, with luck, your path and that of the tanagers will intersect at some point.  Sounded simple enough, and with two days allocated it sounded simple enough; on the first morning I was actually wondering what we would do with our second day once we had seen the tanagers ...

Atlantic Black-throated Trogon and
Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher

And so off we went and the reserve was indeed very birdy.  On the first morning we saw or heard around 45 species, including some nice things like Hooded Berryeater, Robust Woodpecker and Sharpbill.  We weren't at all worried that we hadn't bumped into the tanagers and took a break trail-side for lunch and a rest, before hitting the trails again for round two.

The afternoon session produced more of the same, lots of birds and plenty of tanagers ... Azure-shouldered, Brassy-breasted, Rufous-headed, and Black-goggled ... but not the ones we came for.  We eventually had to admit defeat and headed off for more of that delicious local food (after two weeks of rice and beans in the Amazon, the food was a big plus) and some sleep.  There was always day two ...

Did I mention that the food here was good?

Saturday, August 27 - Reserva Kaetés

Back to the trails and had a really nice morning of birding.  We took the time to get a good look at White-breasted Tapaculo, a bird that sounds more like a toad than like something with feathers.  We also saw (not just heard) Brown Tinamou and Such's Antthrush while quietly stalking ground birds.  But as for the target ... no luck.  At this point my anxiety was starting to rise and I asked if it might be possible to stay another morning for a fifth chance at the birds.

Two of my favorite bird names ... Black-goggled Tanager and
Sibilant Syrystes

So the afternoon, and session number four.  We started at the center of the reserve and chose a direction to walk covering about a half mile before turning around to head back and perhaps try another trail.  Then, a flurry of excitement.  One of the researchers heard Cherry-throated Tanager calls and we ran up the trail to where they seemed to be.  For an instant there was a fast moving flock of birds in the canopy overhead, multiple people calling directions and the birds were moving fast, and away from the trail.  Hard to describe my relief when I got my bins on a bird, but no time to waste and I whipped the camera around and employed a technique know as 'spray and pray' firing a volley of shots into the leaves where I thought the bird might be.  And then ... they were gone, the whole encounter lasted only a couple of minutes.   But I had a record shot!

OK, it wasn't a good shot ... but that didn't really matter ...

So a success, and a lot of fist-bumps and high-fives.   Birders who visit the reserve during breeding season are usually shown to the nest site and easily see the birds but we had to work for ours and, after the fact, that felt pretty good.  This really is one of the rarest birds on earth which makes the experience of seeing them special but also rather poignant.  There are plans to expand the reserve so perhaps there's a glimmer of hope for the this species but otherwise its future does not look good.  There are many challenges for any species that gets this close to extinction but you have to admire the tenacity of the last survivors who continue to breed in the last, tiny sanctuary.  I really hope they make it.

Sunday, August 28 - Vitória

Dinner and social time and a reluctant final packing before returning to the US after nearly a month in Brazil.  More Brazil trips to come, I hope so ...

OK, I may have overdone the food here but ...

Friday, July 28, 2023

Capuchinbirds and Pink Dolphins

 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

Too soon, our time here was up but there was time for one last crack at the Band-tailed Antshrike.  By this time I felt we'd invested so much time in this bird that to give up now would be foolish.  I'd like to report that fourth time was a charm ... but we dipped again, the bird simply was not there that week.  We did get a very unexpected Sooty Barbthroat though, another species known only from the Guianas with just a handful of records from Brazil, so that was a very nice consolation prize.  Time also for one final trail, which gave us Spot-tailed Antwren and Guianan Puffbird to round things out.

Such a great spot and so many good birds.  I may well have ruined my first trip to Guiana, if I ever get round to getting there, but it did wonders for my Brazil list and a good time was had by all.

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 GnateaterOrnate 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!).

Amazonian Scrub-Flycatcher

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 ... 

Black-chinned Antbird

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.