Back in 1995, I went to Brazil for the first time. I flew to São Paulo, changed planes and flew on to Cuiaba, then spent a week birding in the Pantanal and in the nearby cerado habitat. It was a low budget trip, we stayed in very basic accommodation and I could only afford to take part in the first week of what for others was a two week trip. I saw 273 species of birds, most of them new for me, and I saw my first Giant River Otters and Giant Anteaters. Despite the trip being so short I was quite simply entranced with the country and figured that I'd be back. Indeed, since that trip I've made more than a dozen trips to Brazil, ten of them specifically for birding.
After I left Brazil that first time, the group of birders I was with went on to Alta Floresta and spent a week at the Rio Cristalino Jungle Lodge, where they saw a ton more birds and several Brazilian Tapirs. Not to worry I thought, I'll probably get there before too long ... then 24 years passed by in a flash ... and I never did get round to going Rio Cristalino (and never saw a tapir of any sort).
In the meantime, two of my good birding friends, Carlos Sanchez and Rich Hoyer, both worked as guides at the Cristalino so I kept being reminded that I really ought to go, and yet somehow I just couldn't get organized to fit a visit into my schedule. I knew it would happen someday though and it turns out that 2019 was the lucky year. This year my Summer unexpectedly opened up and I decided to expand a long-planned NorthEast Brazil trip, grabbing the opportunity, and a room at the lodge at short notice. Game on ...
Sunday, June 23 - Thursday, June 27 - Cristalino Jungle Lodge
A long travel weekend. On Saturday I'd flown from New York to Bogotá and then on to São Paulo (sacrificing time for a cheap business class seat on Avianca). I'd spent Saturday night at the airport Marriott at Guarulhos then taken an early Sunday morning flight to Cuiaba and, despite a delay, just made a connecting flight to Alta Floresta. From there, my fellow lodge guests and I were met and driven an hour or so to a boat, then had a nice quick ride up the river to the lodge. Made it ... finally.
Once we got oriented I, and two fellow birders who I did not know beforehand, got assigned a birding guide. I wasn't thrilled to be lumped with other birders who, although they turned out to be delightful people and charming company, didn't initially strike me as 'hard core' birders. However, I was happy to be assigned Sidnei Dantas as a guide ... another talented young ornithologist and a good friend of a friend. And everything worked out in the end.
|A Pai da Mata made with fresh local herbs. The lodge had a full bar and a good|
wine list ... I only allow myself one cocktail every now and then, this was the one
and it was worth it.
|Red-throated Piping Guan|
The time on the trails was mixed in with quite civilized boat rides along the rivers. The birds here weren't quite so special but there were lots of big, photogenic things to keep us interested. On the big charismatic bird front, I also finally caught up with Razor-billed Curasow, an amazing cracid that I'd long wanted to see.
|Hoatzin and Sunbittern|
Beyond the river-bank birds, the boat trips offered the best chances for other types of life and we did manage to see quite a few good things. Spectacled Caiman were not uncommon on the river but one night we also managed to spot-light a Cuvier's Dwarf-Caiman in the fading light, a life crocodilian for me. These small heavily armored little crocs have large numbers of bony plates in their skin, which has protected them from the handbag trade, although being small and shy they are still rarely seen.
|Cuvier's Dwarf Caiman|
|Neotropical River Otter|
|Great Black Hawk|
|Blackish Nightjar roosting on one of the cabins|
On the last full day, for a change of scenery, we went down to the main river and birded some of the sand islands there. Pied Lapwings really do look a lot like Egyptian Plovers (I can say that now that I've seen the plover) and we spent a fair amount of time attempting to lure a Glossy Antshrike within range of the camera. This was the place we were told to look out for Harpy Eagles but alas, none came to see us, although we did see two different Ornate Hawk-Eagles during our stay there. Next time ... for me with Harpy Eagle, it's always next time ...
|Pied Lapwing and Glossy Antshrike|
All too soon though it was time for me to head back to the real world. I really could have stayed at least an extra few days but my plans were set, so back to Alta Floresta then Cuiaba and on to São Paulo. I did bring a souvenir with me though ... on the flight to Cuiaba my ankles and lower legs were itching uncontrollably, and it only got worse during the day ... Chiggers! Not my favorite invertebrate and I had 'gotten them good' so for the entire duration of my stay in São Paulo I had something to remember the Amazon. Still, it was worth it, and I'm already plotting my next trip to the Amazon ....