Cape Town South Africa Birding October 27-November 1, 2016

We engaged Avian Leisure of Simon’s Town, a suburb of Cape Town, for 6 days of birding, mammal viewing and wine tasting in Western Cape Province of South Africa.  Avian Leisure is owned and operated by Patrick and Marie-Louise Cardwell, and Patrick was our driver and guide for the week.  Although Patrick and Louise operate a small B&B, it was full at the time and so they arranged for us to stay at Mariner’s Guest House in Simon’s Town for the first 3 nights.  The 4th night was near the De Hoop Nature Reserve east of Cape Town and the 5th night was at a dairy farm near the Grootvadersbosch Forest area east ot Swellendam.  Our final night was at a hotel near the airport so that we could catch an early morning flight to Windhoek, Namibia for another 11 days of birding and photography.

We were surprised by the number mammals to be seen in the Western Cape.  Among them were Elands, Africa’s largest antelope.


Cape Mountain Zebra is one of the 2 subspecies of Mountain Zebra.   [Mountain Zebra, found only in southwest South Africa and in Namibia, is one of the 3 species of Zebra:  Grevy’s Zebra is confined to northern east-central Africa, Burchell’s Zebra is widespread, and Hartman’s Mountain Zebra is the Mountain subspecies found only in northern Namibia].  We enjoyed the challenge of distinguishing between Burchell’s and the 2 subspecies of Mountain Zebra, so here is a pictorial.  As we saw the Burchell’s and Hartman’s only later in Namibia, this is a bit out of sequence, but it makes for a nice challenge right here.

cape-mountain-zebra burchells-zebra hartmans-zebra

Bontebok are strikingly patterned antelope that once were on the brink of extinction.  Down to about 30 individuals, they were saved by local farmers and are now securely established in several South African preserves.


Other antelope seen in the Western Cape area were Grey Rhebok and Cape Grysbok.

Of course, one of our primary goals was to see the Jackass (African) Penguins, the only penguin species found in Africa.  We need not have worried, as these funny little birds were numerous and tame at Boulder Beach in Simon’s Town and at another coastal area that we stopped at later in the trip. This became our 10th  lifetime penguin species, adding to the 9 that we have seen in the southern part of the western hemisphere.


I have been making a mild effort to see at least one species of each family of birds in the world.  There are about 10,000 species, in about 200 families.  South Africa provided a potential of 4 new families for me:  Sugarbirds, Honeyguides, Buttonquail and Whydahs.  At the wonderful Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town, the Cape Sugarbirds graced the colorful and unique Fynbo vegetation in good numbers, making for a pleasant garden experience.  Kirstenbosch Gardens is a jewel, not to be missed.


Patrick and Marie-Louise invited us to their house in Simon’s Town for tea one morning, and we were delighted to view in their garden a pair of Pin-tailed Whydahs, the second of the four new families sought.


We did not succeed in finding any of the other two families, Honeyguides or Buttonquail.

We enjoyed an afternoon visiting one of the oldest vineyards in South Africa, the Groot Constantia, and tasting several of its wines.  Founded in 1685 by the first governor of Cape Town, an official of the Dutch East India Company, the vineyard has survived changes of ownership and the original mansion is still maintained on the premises.

Among the more colorful new species found during the drives around the countryside were Denham’s Bustards


Blue Cranes


Orange-breasted Sunbirds


Lesser Double-collared Sunbirds


Southern Boubous


Hartlaub’s Gulls


African Black Oystercatchers


Capped Wheatears


Spotted Thick-knee


Spotted Eagle-Owl


Bully Canary




African Paradise Flycatcher




African Black Duck


African Shelduck


Southern Red Bishops


We spent one night at a dairy farm near Grootvadersbosch.  The family maintains a herd of about 500 Jersey milchcows.  They treated us to a lovely home-cooked meal with them in their 200 year old farmhouse.  This was certainly a highlight of our South Africa experience.

Finally, this Cape Cobra made its escape from our wheels as we drove along one of the rural roads.


I started the South Africa trip with a total of 2,934 species of birds on my world List.  I added 92 in South Africa, to break my 3,000 target.

Avian Birding and the Cardwells are a fine choice for anyone seeking a short and pleasant birding experience in the Western Cape.  They include, in addition to birding and animal viewing, other activities and interests and pleasant and interesting companionship.    






Birding Northern Chile —- December 9-14, 2015

On the 9th I went to the Santiago airport to meet Rodrigo Tapia, my northern Chile guide who works for Far South Expeditions.  There I was joined by Peter and Felicity, Australian birders who would be my companions, along with Rodrigo, for the next 6 days.  The flight to Arica in the far north of Chile took over three hours, just to give you an idea of the north-south expanse of Chile.  We landed around noon and immediately began birding in the Arica area.

Arica is the northernmost city in Chile, just a few miles south of the border with Peru.  The driest desert in the world, the Atacama, surrounds Arica on three sides, with the Pacific Ocean on the west.  Arica serves as a seaport with large quantities of goods going to and arriving by truck from land-locked Bolivia over the mountain highway that lies in Chile but serves both countries.

Along the sea shore north of Arica we found numerous Peruvian Pelicans, Peruvian Boobies, Gray Gulls, Belcher’s Gulls, Inca Terns, along with a large number of migratory shorebirds, waders and seabirds familiar to North American birders.  West Peruvian Doves were abundant.  We left the coast and drove into one of the narrow valleys where we found Peruvian Meadowlarks, Chestnut-throated Seedeaters, Slender-billed Finches, and Chiguanco Thrushes.  The valleys seem very narrow, and their greenness is threatened, it seems, by the vast and enormous sand dunes that rise abruptly from the valley floors.

The next day found us in the Andes in the Aymara Indian village of Putre, elevation about 10,500 feet.  The buildings and street are very old and the streets have a gutter down the middle for drainage, making it a bit difficult to maneuver through.  But our hotel, the Hosteria Q’Antati, at the far end of the village, was fine and in fact the breakfasts served there were the best of the trip.  Dinners were at a nice little restaurant in the middle of the village.

Birding around the Putre area produced a good number of new birds, including great looks at an Ornate Tinamou, Bare-faced and Black-winged Ground Doves, Sparkling Violet-ears, Andean Hillstars (nesting under the eaves around our hotel), Giant Hummingbirds, Straight-billed and Plain-breasted Earthcreepers, a White-tailed Shrike-tyrant, White-browed Chat-Tyrants, Blue and Yellow Tanagers, Black-throated Flowerpiercers, Black-hooded, Ash-breasted and Band-tailed Sierra-Finches and Hooded Siskins.

The next morning we got an early start heading for the Surire salt pans, one of the most interesting sights in the Chilean Altiplano.  The “lake” is the site of extensive salt mining operations, but nonetheless hosts all 3 species of Flamingos found in southern South America: James (Puna), Chilean and Andean.  We were not disappointed.  All 3 species were in plain view as we drove around the lake, giving me an amazing opportunity to compare the 3 and ultimately, be able to distinguish among the 3 species quite readily.

The trip also provided great looks at herds of wild Vicunas, the odd looking rodents called Viscachas, featuring a squirrel like-body with rabbit-like ears, and several handsome Andean Deer.  At a stop early along the way we found numbers of Grey-breasted Seedsnipes and Andean Negritos. Later in the day we were treated to a somewhat distant view of Lesser (Puna) Rheas.  On the return trip a brood of Puna Tinamous (12 chicks with the parent, probably the male) made a close up appearance as they scurried along the side of the road and into the cover.

After a very long day we arrived back at Putre and our hotel and went out for a late dinner.  Tomorrow we would go to one of the other great attractions of the northern Chilean mountains, the Lauca National Park, the site of the highest lake in the world.  The trip to and the hike around the lake produced good looks at Puna Ibis, Giant and Andean Coots, Andean Geese, Andean Avocets, Andean Lapwings, Andean Flickers, and more.

The day was beautiful, with towering, snow-capped mountains, crystal-clear lakes and ponds, green tundra-like areas and lots of birds. We hiked along the shore of the Lake where we saw Andean Ruddy Ducks, the 3 coots, Puna Teal, Canasteros, Andean Negritos, and much more.  Andean Gulls, Andean Geese and herds of Vicunas provided close-up entertainment as I waited at a mid-point for the group to finish the hike, be picked up by our driver and return to Arica.  I regretted having to depart from these beautiful mountains.

Our pelagic trip did not produce many new birds, but we did see a number of Elliot’s Storm Petrels, Humboldt Penguins and a few Peruvian Diving Petrels.  The rest of our birding in northern Chile was centered around the valleys of the Arica area.  Among the interesting new sightings were Oasis Hummingbirds, a single Mountain Caracara, Peruvian Thick-knees, a Burrowing Owl, Chilean Woodstars, and Peruvian Sheartails.

To summarize my entire trip, I was able to identify about 215 species, including both central and northern Chile, of which 108 were lifers, to bring my world-wide total to 2,935.  The guides, both from Albatross and Far South, were excellent, personable and hard-working.  In particular, the office staff at Albatross was extremely helpful in organizing my last minute itinerary and setting up, in meticulous detail, my transportation and lodging requirements in arriving and departing Santiago.  I was impressed by the country of Chile itself.  It is clean, modern, well-governed and the people are hospitable and helpful even if you don’t speak much Spanish. I would go back again, perhaps next time to see southern Chile and its natural wonders.









Birding Central Chile —– December 2-8, 2015

On December 2 my guide from Albatross Birding and Nature Tours, Rodrigo Reyes, picked me up at my hotel in Providencia and we drove to the Lampa/Batuco area northwest of Santiago.  At these wetlands we found Coscoroba Swans, a single, laggard Andean Goose, 8 species of ducks, 3 grebe species, 4 heron species, several Cinereous Harriers and Variable Hawks, many Chimango Caracaras, 3 Coot species, several shorebirds, Brown-hooded Gulls, Correndera Pipits, and other species common in the area.

My favorite finds here were the Many-colored Rush Tyrants (which came close and showed off their amazing colors), the secretive Wren-like Rushbirds, Austral Negritos, Common Diuca Finches singing all around, a few Grassland Yellow-finches, many Yellow-winged Blackbirds, and colorful, red-breasted Long-tailed Meadowlarks.

We returned to Santiago to explore the urban park, Parque Bicentenario.  Although it is surrounded by the city, it boasts a surprising number of interesting birds.  Among them were a number of colorful Spot-flanked Gallinules, Plain-mantled Tit-spinetails nesting in a lamp post, surprisingly obvious Rufous-tailed Plantcutters (great name), Chilean Mockingbirds, and the ever present Rufous Collared Sparrows.  Here also we saw several Long-tailed Meadowlarks at close range.

On the 3rd we drove southeast of Santiago to Lake Colbun and from there northeast to Vilvhes Alto where we spent the night.  The next day we hiked a long way among the wonderful trees in the Altos de Lircay National Park.  An old North American friend, California Quail, introduced to Chile long ago, were seen in several locations.  Among the new and interesting sightings were Picui Ground Doves, Chilean Pigeons, Chilean Flickers, Magellanic Woodpeckers,  Austral Parakeets,  a couple of Green-backed Firecrowns, Thorn-tailed Rayaditos, Dusky-tailed Canasteros, White-throated Treerunners, White-crested Elaenias, Fire-eyed Diucons, Chilean Swallows, Patagonian Sierra-Finches and Austral Thrushes.  We returned to Santiago for the night.

On the 5th I was picked up at the hotel by a different Albatross guide, Paola Soublette.  We drove first to the Yerba Loca and Farellones areas east of Santiago where we spent the entire day.  Highlights were the Crag Chilias, the amazingly close and long view of a perched adult Andean Condor (plus a dozen or more overhead),  Black-chested Buzzard Eagles, Black-winged Ground Doves, a most cooperative Magellanic Great Horned Owl, great looks at a Giant Humming bird at the same time that we were looking at a Striped Woodpecker on its nest, Rufous-banded Miners, Scale-throated Earthcreepers, Cream-winged and Gray-flanked Cinclodes, Cordilleran Canasteros, a spectacular Chest-nut throated Huet Huet, perky Moustached Turcas in relative abundance, White-browed Ground-tyrants, Black-billed Ground-tyrants, Gray-hooded Sierra Finches, Mourning Sierra Finches, Greater Yellow-Finches, and Yellow-rumped Siskins.  A very productive day.

The next morning we left Santiago to drive down to the Rio Maipo estuary and to spend the day birding northward on the coast.  We finished the day at the seaside village of Quintero and spent the night at a beautifully located, older hotel with a view of the sun setting over the Pacific.  Not only was the view great, but the dinner at the Hotel’s dining room was among the best of the trip.

Along the way we found Black-necked Swans, Silvery Grebes (Occipatalis subspecies), Peruvian Pelicans, Peruvian Boobies, Red-legged Cormorants, Guanay Cormorants, a surprising (to me) Stripe-backed bittern, a Collared Plover, American and Blackish Oystercatchers, several common shorebirds, a single Gray Gull, Kelp Gulls, beautiful Inca Terns, South American Terns, Elegant Terns, a flock of thousands of Black Skimmers, a closeup Seaside Cinclodes, and one of the most interesting birds of the trip, Des Murs Wiretails (after a short but strenuous walk along the river bank in brush and mush).

On the 7th I joined several other birders for a pelagic trip on the Pacific led by Rodrigo.  My new birds for this pelagic trip were Humboldt Penguins, Royal Albatross (Southern subspecies), Royal Albatross (Northern subspecies), numerous Salvin’s (Shy) Albatross, a probable juvenile Chatham Albatross, Westland Petrels, (close and plentiful enough to learn to distinguish them from the similar White-chinned Petrels).  Several other pelagic species that I have previously seen were somewhat common.  Among the “misses”, at least missed by me although seen by some of the participants, were Peruvian Diving-petrels and a possible Juan Fernandez Petrel.  We returned to shore about noon, had lunch and a short rest and then I joined Paola again for the trip back to Santiago, including some more birding along the way.  We saw many of the same species that we had seen the day before, some of them far better.

On my last day in central Chile, Paola drove from Santiago up to the Yeso Valley.  The main target of the quest was the iconic Diademed Sandpiper Plover.  Along the way we were able to find a few new trip birds, including Torrent Ducks, Band-tailed Earthcreeper, Crag Chilia, and Yellow-rumped Siskins.  The road was very rough, narrow and high.  Not only that but this was a holiday in Chile, and there were lots of vehicles vying for road-space.  Paola had her hands full and several times we had to stop perilously close to the cliff-edge to make way for opposing traffic.  Finally, we reached the Yeso Reservoir, and traveled on upward to the very end, where we hoped to find the Diademed Sandpiper Plover.  This required a very wet hike through in a soggy bog.  Along the way we encountered a nice flock of 20 or so Upland Geese, that were willing to allow us to pass nearby without flushing.  An hour or so into the hike, I spotted the target bird only a few feet from me, feeding in a shallow pool.  I spent the next half hour, simply gazing at this beautiful bird, time enough for Paola to try for a video in which both I and the bird appeared.  After a long and close look at this, one of the most beautiful of birds, we started back.  As we were leaving the bog we were fortunate to find another one of my top 2 targets of the trip: Seedsnipes.  Seedsnipes are a family found only in South America and primarily only in Chile.  I had never seen any species of this family and wanted to add it to my list.  A pair of Gray-breasted Seedsnipes circled us and gave us a relatively close view, before we had to depart to return to Santiago, and go down the awful road we had come up.

I wanted to buy some lapis lazuli jewelry for my wife, whose birthday occurred while I was in Chile.  Lapis lazuli, a semi-precious metal, is mined in Chile (and Afghanistan) and local artisans create some beautiful pieces.   Thanks go to Paola who took time out from our birding to take me shopping in the old market in Santiago.  (She did not think much of my original plan to find something at one of the airport shops).  The market was an interesting place to visit and we found a lapis lazuli butterfly pendant and earrings that I liked very much, and so does Barbara.

Sorry, I have no pictures to include in this Blog.  Maybe I will have some photos on my next trip, when Barbara accompanies me and exercises here photographic magic.






Brazil Pantanal Birding Piuval – September 3-4

We left Porto Jofre on September 3 and proceeded back north on the Pantaneira toward Pousada Piuval, where we would spend the night before returning to Cuiaba for our flights back home on the 4th.  Pousada Piuval is the most northerly lodge on the Pantaneira, located about 10 kilometers along the road and about 6 or 7 more by private road.  It is built on a 17,000 acre cattle ranch, and guests are given access by vehicle to the ranch for birding and viewing the many mammals to be found there.

The Pantaneira was as dusty and the bridges as worn out as when we drove south a few days before.  But the birds were as plentiful, and on the return trip we stopped along the way in search of more of the passerines than we had taken time for on the way down, because of the plenitude of the water birds that had been new to us on the way down.


We arrived at Piuval in time for an afternoon drive at the Ranch.  Among the birds seen this day, either along the road or at the Ranch, were these:




Long-tailed Ground Dove



Ferruginous Pygmy Owl



Blue-crowned Trogon



Peach-fronted Parakeets



Large-billed Antwren



White-bellied Seedeater



Rusty-collared Seedeater



Saffron-billed Sparrow



Amazonian Motmot



At the ranch, a Brown Capuchin Monkey wandered across the open pasture, standing on its hind legs to look about for danger from time to time.



A South American Coati also made its way around a pond.



Field Guides is a good tour company.  The trip was well conceived and very well executed.  The two guides, Marcello and Pepe, were exceptional in all respects.  The part of Brazil that we saw, Brasilia and Mato Grosso in the west central part of Brazil, was diverse and fascinating.  The bird life and animal life is abundant. The vegetation is sparser and more conducive to finding wildlife than the denser jungle areas of the Amazon to the north.  The roads were not good, but that is the price one expects to pay to better experience the natural environment. Pests, such as mosquitoes, were few and far between, and malaria is not a concern in Mato Grosso.

I saw a total of 330 species of birds in Brazil, of which 160 were new life birds for me, putting my total species observed and identified world-wide to 2825.  Now, I suppose I will find the challenge of reaching 3,000 irresistable.  Chile is appealing.







Brazil Pantanal Birding and Jaguars – Porto Jofre – September 1-2, 2015

Much of our time at Porto Jofre was spent on a boat looking for Jaguars on the banks of the rivers.  Birding took a back seat, but there were still plenty of birds to see along the rivers.  Our boats were comfortable, the rivers calm and the weather a sunny 103 degrees.  The scenery in and along the rivers was, to use an over-used term, gorgeous.

Our first morning on the river turned up empty of Jaguars. We started the morning with nice looks at nesting

Large-billed Terns



At the end of the hot morning I was exhausted and for the only time on the trip, I skipped the afternoon activities, took a nap, and birded around the Lodge.  Of course, afternoon on the River produced the group’s first Jaguar sighting of the trip.



As is the case in many areas where wild-life sightings are the objective, when a guide finds an animal he radios the other guides in the area, and they all converge.  This can be an unpleasant experience due to the jockeying for photographic advantage that goes on.

The next morning Marcello decided to abandon the main river and go in the opposite direction to a smaller tributary.  That decision was a very good one, because shortly after entering the tributary, two young Jaguars were spotted along the shore line.



We were the only boat in range, so the time spent observing them inter-act with each other, (licking, playing) was lovely.  The entire group was relieved that I, who had missed the first Jaguar, now could add Jaguars to my life list of mammals.

Later in the day, back on the big river, we were fortunate to find a fourth Jaguar.  This one was spotted by our boatman as it cooled itself behind a fallen tree in the shaded waters of the river, but this one did not stick around long and did not provide much opportunity for pictures, although the sighting itself was very satisfying.

The search for Jaguars was primary while we were at Porto Jofre, but the birding was also excellent.  Among the interesting species that we were able to see and photograph driving down the Pantaneira and after our arrival at Porto Jofre are these:

Hyacinth Macaws





Campo Flicker



Amazon Kingfisher






Maguari Stork



Rufescent Tiger Heron



Capped Herons



Cocoi Heron



Yellow-rumped Caciques



Orange-backed Troupial



Green and Rufous Kingfisher 



Southern Screamer



Nacunda Nighthawk   



White-wedged Piculet     



Buff-necked Ibis  



There were many Jabiru Storks.  This one was busy fishing for his dinner.



We saw this Jabiru Stork family high in the tree.



No photographic record of our time on the Pantaneira would be complete without a picture of the ever present Cayman.



The final installment of my blog of Brazil will cover the drive from Porto Jofre back to the north end of the Pantaneira, where we spent the night at Piuval Lodge and explored the surrounding ranch.














Brazil’s Mato Grosso: The Pantanal via the Transpantaneira Road August 30-31, 2015

On August 30, 2015 we left Garden of the Amazon and drove south toward the Pantanal.  Midway, we stopped in Cuiaba to pick up one of our guides, Pepe, who a couple of days earlier had accompanied a guest back to Cuiaba from Garden of the Amazon due to a medical emergency.  The guest was OK, much to our relief, and he re-joined the tour at Cuiaba.  Lesson to be learned:  it might be wise to tour with groups who provide 2 guides.

Eighty percent of the Pantanal is located in west central Brazil with smaller areas in eastern Bolivia and eastern Paraguay.  The Pantanal contains about 70,000 square miles and it is the world’s largest freshwater wetland, 10 to 20 (depending on the source) times the size of the Everglades.  Every year it is flooded to several feet in depth from the rains (40-60 inches from November to March) and by runoff from the tributaries of the Paraguay River.  The Pantanal starts about 60 miles south of Cuiaba near Pocone.  The northern third of the Pantanal (approximately 80 miles) is traversed by the Transpantaneira Road.  This is a dirt road with 122 wooden bridges, most of which are in poor repair.  The road ends on a river bank, at the little village of Porto Jofre.  There is no bridge across the river.  The southern two thirds of the Pantanal is almost roadless, except for a short stretch at the south end.  Ninety-eight percent of the Pantanal is in private ownership, mostly cattle ranching.

Along the Pantaneira, in ranch-land a little far out for pictures, we spotted two Red-legged Seriemas.


This was the third of the three new bird families on my wish list for this trip.  We stopped for an evening of birding and good food at Curicaca Lodge (“Pousada Curicaca”) which is about 15 miles down the Pantaneira and about 3 kilometers off the road, accessed by a narrow dirt lane.  It is located in one of the few cattle-free areas of the Pantanal.  We birded around the Lodge that evening and the next morning.

Among the birds we saw at Curicaca were:

Blue-throated Piping Guan



Bare-faced Currasows



Gray- necked Woodrail



Tropical Screech Owl



Great Potoo



Pale-crested Woodpecker



Cream-colored Woodpecker



Laughing Falcon



Bat Falcon



Orange-winged Parrot



Yellow-collared Macaw



Fork-tailed Woodnymph



Purple-throated Euphonia



Plumbious Ibis




We saw a lot of birds the next morning as we walked along the private road.  Around 9:00 a.m. we boarded our bus and started south on the Pantaneira to Porto Jofre, about 60 miles away.  The road was very dusty. Many of the wooden bridges were not safe and must be bypassed by driving through the seasonally dry ditches at the sides of the bridges.  But the birds; Oh the birds!!!  I have never seen so many birds over such large landscapes.  At this, the end of the dry season, they are collecting at the nearly dried-out ponds and ditches along the road to take advantage of the fish and other aquatic creatures that are suffocating in the dwindling and hot pools.  Even the Cayman appear to be suffering the ill effects, as we saw a couple of dead and decomposing corpses protruding from the water.

The history of the Pantaneira Road is very interesting.  Prior to World War II the area was lightly populated and very poor.  During World War II, the local ranchers sold beef to supply the needs of the soldiers in Europe and Africa.  They did very well financially, and lobbied for a road.  The government proceeded to build the road, in part.  The south terminus of the road is at the Rio Sao Lourenco River at Porto Jofre, and there is no land connection crossing the river, or for many miles on south.  The only connection from the south is by river.  After the war, the demand for exported beef dwindled, and the influence of the ranchers dwindled accordingly, probably explaining why the road was not finished.

The Pantanal is still a source of beef (see local cowboys, or “Vaqueiros” along the road; the Spanish demonym, “Gaucho” is used in Argentina and in the very southern part of Brazil, but I think where we were, “Vaqueiro” would be the proper usage).



I learned that the cattle are primarily Zebu, or Indian Brahman, and almost all the cattle in the Pantanal are of the white to silvery gray variety, with the long, drooping ears, excess neck skin and back hump typical of their progenitors.  Heat and drought resistance is a valuable trait for survival in the Pantanal. During the rainy season, the cattle retreat to the closest available forested knolls or ridges that are barely above the water line.



We proceeded slowly south on the Pantaneira, stopping often to observe the rich bird life, and at about 6:30 we arrived at our lodge for the next 3 nights, the Hotel Porto Jofre. Tomorrow the emphasis on finding birds was to end, our days on the river would begin, and the principal focus of our outings would be Jaguars.

















Brazil Mato Grosso Birding August, 2015

We joined the Field Guides Jaguar Spotting: Pantanal & Garden of the Amazon Tour in Cuiba, the capital of the state of Mato Grosso, about noon on August 26th.  After lunch we boarded the bus to drive about 75 miles north to Garden of the Amazon, near San Jao do Rio Claro.

The drive took much longer than expected.  The bus had some overheating problems and the road, especially in the agricultural area, which was most of the way, was badly pot-holed.  Nevertheless the drive was interesting particularly because of the agricultural practices observed along the way.  My farm background always comes to the fore when I travel in a foreign country, as I try to see what sort of farming is going on there.  The northern Mato Grosso is heavily cultivated with very large fields of crops including soybeans, cane, cotton and corn, as well as some other crops I could not identify.  There were no farmsteads.  The owners live away from their land.  As it was late winter in Brazil, many of the fields were in the stubble stage, but with evidence of recent ginning of the cotton, with many large round bales stacked on the edges of the fields.  The terrible road condition through this area was easily attributable to the heavy trucks loaded with ag products that used the only highway available, causing great damage and dust along the way.  Smoke rose on the horizon, as burning of the stubble remains a common practice.  Progress here was truly at a snail’s pace.



One of my target birds for this trip was the Greater Rhea.


The Greater Rhea is one of the two species belonging to the Rheidae family, similar to the Ostriches of Africa, which represented one of the three South American families that were missing from my life list and which I could reasonably expect to see on this trip. One of the others, the Crescentchest of the Melanopareidae Family I had already seen at the Nacional Forest near Brasilia.  I had no reason to worry, because these very large birds were common along the road and in the fields.  Our guides said that they are protected by the farmers because they consume many insects that are harmful to the crops.  So early on, I had ticked off two of my three primary targets, leaving for a future day to find only the Seriema as a representative of the Cariamidae family.

Garden of the Amazon is a small, family owned lodge built on the Rio Claro.  For those geographers who like to know such things, the Rio Claro, flows into the Rio Arinos, which flows into the Rio Juruena in the northerly state of Amazonia, where it merges into the Rio San Manuel and becomes the Rio Tapajos, which empties into the Amazon.  There are at least a dozen Rio Claros in the Amazon basin. This Rio Claro looked like a pretty big river to me.  Imagine the Amazon, with over 60 direct tributaries, many of which have a half dozen or more sub-tributaries.

Our days at Garden of the Amazon were quite evenly divided between river cruises and walking the trails around the Lodge.  An early morning extra outing for a few of us to attempt to see a Zigzag Heron resulted in hearing one, but it never came in view, to my chagrin.  Around the Lodge were Capybarras



and thousands of butterflies.



A highlight of one of our river cruises was this Anaconda, which was trying to absorb some heat from a sandbar.  How long is it?  Estimates varied between 12 and 15 feet, but as the trip wore on, it grew to 20 feet or more.   :-)



Birds, including new life birds, at this area were too numerous to list.  Barbara was busy with her camera, but many of the birds were spotted high in the trees looking into the sun.  Not ideal for photos.  Some of the photos are here:

Blue-necked Tanager



Blue & Yellow Macaw

blue-yellow-macaw-2 blue-yellow-macaw-3


Spotted Puffbird



Swallow Tanager



Red-bellied Macaw



White-winged Swallow



Black-bellied Antwren 



Turquoise Tanager



Masked Tityra  



Paradise Tanager 



Umbrella Bird



Cocoi Heron



Pink-throated Becard   



Lineated Woodpecker  



Pied Puffbird 



Chestnut-eared Aracari 



Gould’s Toucanet



We spotted a marmoset peeking at us from behind a tree.



Looking into the sun at this monkey high in a tree made an interesting silhouette.











Brasilia: Friends and Birding 2015

Barbara and I were in Brasilia from August 20-26.  The primary purpose of our trip to Brasilia was to spend time with our Brazilian friends whom we first met almost 30 years ago when they hosted Barbara and one of our daughters as part of a Friendship Force exchange.  In the interim we have hosted one of their sons, one of their daughters, and a grandson here in West Des Moines.  The return visit was all that we could wish for.

We were picked up at the airport by their grandson, Pedro, and then treated to a fine breakfast at their home on the morning of our arrival.  Pedro drove us to check in at our hotel for an afternoon of rest after the long day and night of travel from Des Moines, through Atlanta to Brasilia.


The next day, and several additional days, Pedro (or, on his day off, his Uncle Bruno) drove us about Brasilia to show us some of the attractions of the city.  First stop was the Presidential Palace with its expansive grounds.  During the week we enjoyed visiting many of the highlights of Brasilia, including the Cathedral (breathtaking beauty, inside and out),




the Square of the 3 Powers,




and my favorite, Itamaraty Palace, where Angela Merkel and her German entourage had been feted the day before.


Over the next few days we visited Congresso Nationale, the beautiful J.K. Bridge over Lake Paranoa, the Sanctuario dom Bosco and several other striking examples of Brasilia architecture, much of it designed by Oscar Niemeyer.  The view from the tv tower gave a good overview.  They treated us to a boat tour of the city from the lake which gave us a whole new perspective.



The family held several gatherings for us at their homes in order that we could more fully enjoy their company and their cuisine, including a true southern Brazil barbecue.  We walked in the parks and enjoyed learning of the design and development of Brasilia as a unique, planned capital.  It is an amazing place.



I had arranged in advance to hire a local bird guide, Jonatas Rocha, who spent one day birding with us in the Parque Nacional De Brasilia, just a short drive north of the city, and with just me for a second day in the close-by National Forest.  Pedro provided transportation and acted as interpreter for our first day, and the second day I went with Jonatas in his one-passenger pickup, and we were able to enjoy a productive day of birding although he spoke no English and I no Portuguese.  Jonatas is a very good guide and I would recommend him to anyone considering a day or so of birding in the Brasilia area.  He was referred by Birding Pal.

Jonatas had emailed me lists of the birds found in the Parque and in the Forest before we left the States so that I could prepare better for our outings.  I made a list of those that were not likely to also be found later on our Fieldguides Tour in the Cuiaba area.  In the two days of Brasilia birding, I managed to add 37 birds to my life list.  The highlights among my new life birds were the rare, elusive and very local Brasilia Tapaculo, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Squirrel Cuckoo,


Collared Crescentchest, Southern Antpipit, Curl-crested Jay, the local warblers (White-striped, White-bellied, Flavescent), Rufous-winged and Variable Antshrikes, Black-capped Antwren, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Russet-mantled Foliage Gleaner, Pale-breasted Spinetail, a Greenish Schiffornis, several species of Eleanias and other Flycatchers, Pale-breasted and Eastern Slaty Thrushes, Black-goggled and Guira Tanagers,


Yellow-bellied Seedeaters, Wedge-tailed Grass Finch, Black-throated Saltator, Grassland Sparrow and Purple-throated Euphonias.

On the morning of August 26th we flew from Brasilia to Cuiaba to join the Fieldguides Tour of the southernmost part of Amazonia and the Pantanal in search of birds and Jaguars.



Tufted Flycatchers in Arizona

On June 19, 1915 I hiked up Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains in search of Tufted Flycatchers.   During the past month a pair of Tufted Flycatchers has been seen regularly about 2 miles up the canyon from the Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Visitor Center.  Rarely seen in North America, this pair constitutes the first recorded North American nesters.

The first mile of the hike, approximately, is on the Nature Conservancy Preserve.  The trail there is well marked and has benches at regular short intervals for the benefit of those of us not accustomed to hiking above 5,000 feet, as this is.  Where the Nature Conservancy Preserve ends, the Coronado National Forest begins.  Ramsey Peak stands at 8,725 feet at the upper end of the Canyon.

Following the detailed description provided by volunteers at the Nature Conservancy, one of whom was the first to locate these Tufted Flycatchers, I located them about 2.5 hours after I started on the hike.  I was very surprised that there was no one else on the trail.  At the specified location one, and possibly both, of the Flycatchers gave me great looks as they sallied out from the bare twigs at the end of a couple of Engleman Spruce trees to capture passing insects.  I was not able to locate the nest which apparently can be seen fairly easily with binoculars.    I was thrilled to add this colorful little flycatcher as number 739 on my North American Life List.  Due to hip replacement surgery in early March, I have not been travelling to find new birds, so this, only my second new life bird in 2015, was very rewarding.  Particularly rewarding was discovering that my recovery has been so very good that I was able to negotiate the high altitude and 2 miles of high trail with no difficulty.

The day was beautiful and the silence supreme, so I decided to have my lunch while sitting on a rock watching the Flycatcher(s).  About 12:30 I began the return trip.  Over-confidence in the mountains, however, can be a big mistake.  As I walked slowly along the trail, I was careless in failing to observe the sign at the place where the trail split.  I thought I had merely continued on the same trail that I had come up, but after a while I began to wonder why nothing looked familiar.  At first I thought I just had not noticed things as I labored upward earlier, so, instead of turning back, I foolishly continued on the trail.  About 2:00 p.m., I realized that I was on a different trail.  Not to worry, just follow the trail downward and I would come out at the base.  About 2:30 I decided that strategy was too risky, as sometimes the trail ascended on switchbacks, and sometimes it went down, and I did not know how far I would have to walk to get out.  Still, no one else showed up on the trail, but there began to be bear sign.

At about that time the trail passed into the open on a rocky point, from which I could see Sierra Vista in the east.  I guessed it to be about 5 or 6 miles down the canyon from where I was.  I had lost confidence in my ability to get out safely on my own, so I took the opportunity of open space and hoped for reception, to call 911 on my cell phone.  The 911 representative, after finding out where I was (“in the mountains”), informed me that 911 did not respond to problems in the mountains, but that the Cochise County Sheriff’s office had a Search and Rescue Team that she would contact for me.  She did, and they quickly got on the line, asked some questions about my physical condition (which was still good, mostly because I had carried a good supply of water with me) and informed me that they would send out a team to get me.  I relaxed, feeling that my problem was now under control, and stretched out on the trail with my backpack for a pillow and dozed for a while.  My phone rang, and the Searcher asked me to tell him if I could hear their series of 3 whistles.  I could not hear them. He told me they would try again in a bit.  I then tried to get up and could not, because of severe cramps in both of my legs. Postassium deficiency, from the heat and exertion of the day.   After working that out, I was able to get up.  A little while later I heard their whistle and called out that I could hear them.  Five searchers arrived a few minutes later.  A welcome sight indeed!

They did some checking on my vitals and had me drink some Gatorade (hot Gatorade, due to the time on the trail getting up to me) to restore my potassium level and ability to avoid cramps.  When they were satisfied that I was mentally and physically capable, they asked if I felt that I could walk out with them.  I asked how far, and they said .4 of a mile, and I said yes.  It turned out to be .7 of a mile, but I made it down to their Polaris ATV.  I got in the Polaris and then experienced the absolute worst road trip of my life, on the rutted and steep road down to “civilization”.  It was about 3 miles.  I clearly could not have walked out.  I marvel at the durability of the vehicle, and the skill of the driver, to traverse that “road”.

The Cochise County Search and Rescue Team consists of about 85 people, all local volunteers.  They are very impressive and professional. When we all arrived at the base, we were greeted by about at least a half dozen more volunteers.  One of them, Ursula, had a camera and took our picture together.  The man third in from the right is Manny, who had the idea of organizing the volunteer group about 40 years ago.  I wonder how many people they have saved over those years.


Surprisingly, I felt pretty good the next morning so I hiked back up the short mile to the Bledsoe Loop on the Preserve, in further search of the Flame Colored Tanagers that had previously been seen there for several weeks.  However, they had abandoned the nest that they had built and were either gone, or in hiding whenever I was in that area.  So, I have yet to get to 740 on my North American Life List.  I was pleased to meet the Nature Conservancy Preserve Manager, Eric Andersen, who was overseeing some work on the trail near the Bledsoe Loop.  He kindly provided me with a can of cold sweet tea to wash down my second picnic lunch of the trip.   I found my way back.

Costa Rica Birding – Part 4 December 2014

Herman picked us up at 7:00 a.m on December 11th and we enjoyed the ride through historic Cartaga, traffic-bound San Jose, and the coast mountains, arriving about noon at Villa Lapas, our final destination.  Although we arrived at noon, as scheduled, the Hotel enforced a misguided policy of not allowing us to check into our rooms until 3:00 p.m. (They were not anywhere near full).  We managed to clean up and change clothes in the public rest rooms on premises and walk the hanging bridge trails from 2:00 until about 5:00.

The next morning we started early again, driving the short distance to Carara National Park.  Almost immediately we could hear the raucous calls of Scarlet Macaws.  Within minutes we were observing multiple pairs of Scarlet Macaws as they squabbled raucously over nesting hole claims, and otherwise made their presence well known.

scarlet-macaw-1 scarlet-macaw-2 scarlet-macaw-3

A troop of Spider Monkeys ambled along among the topmost branches of the jungle, pausing from time to time to taste the flowers.

spider-monkey-1 spider-monkey-2

We also spotted a Capuchin Monkey high in the leaves, but he stayed hidden from our camera lens.  This brought to three the species of monkeys that we saw, and, in the case of the Howler Monkeys, heard.

After the walk at Carara we returned to the hotel grounds, which are quite extensive, for some unguided birding and some rest.  The air conditioning in the rooms was most welcome, as the humidity and heat hit us hard after experiencing the coolness of the interior mountains for the prior 4 days. After siesta, we took a riding tour of the local villages, the sea shore and the farms, all the while looking for birds. Not much new was seen, but there were a few interesting shorebirds and other water-oriented species along the shore, and other interesting species in the country-side.

Among the more interesting birds seen during our stay at Villa Lapas were several Bare-throated Tiger Herons, Magnificent Frigatebirds, two Caracara species, Laughing Falcon, Crested Guan, Orange-chinned Parakeets, a Blue-throated Goldentail, and Blue-crowned Motmots.


Also found here were Barred and Black-hooded Antshrikes, Blue-crowned and Long-tailed Manakins, Rufous-naped Wrens, Yellow-crowned Euphonias, a Long-billed Gnatwren, and others, for a total of about 75 species, none of them, however, new to me.

Costa Rica is a beautiful, friendly, country.  I can’t think of a better place for a beginning birder to initiate his or her out-of-country birding experiences.  This second visit to the country was as comfortable and enjoyable as my first, over 10 years ago.