Brazil’s Cristalino Jungle Lodge Birding – 2018

In 2015 Barbara and I went to Brazil to visit old friends in Brasilia followed by a Field Guides sponsored birding trip to Garden of the Amazon north of Cuiaba, and to the Pantanal, south of Cuiaba, both in the state of Mato Grosso.  My report on that trip can be found in this Blog, in 2 segments, published in September and October, 2015.

In August, 2018 I went back to Brazil for a shorter birding outing with Rockjumper Bird Tours at the famous Cristalino Lodge, in the southern part of the Amazon Rain Forest, in and very close to the northern border of the state of Mato Grosso.  My primary target bird for this trip was the Dark-winged Trumpeter, one of three species in the Trumpeter (Psophiadae) family, a family I had never seen and which can be found only in the Amazonia area of South America.

At Cristalino I joined a group of 6 other birders who had participated in 2 earlier segments of this Rockjumper trip, one to the Pantanal and one to Iguaszu Falls.  They welcomed me warmly to their group and the week with them and with our Rockjumper leader, Rob Williams, could not have been more enjoyable. [Side note:  the bartender at Cristalino makes a good Tanqueray and Tonic].

Cristalino Lodge is located on the banks of the dark water, Cristalino River.  I was surprised at the paucity of bothersome insects, such as mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, flies, etc.  I had come prepared with malaria pills, treated long shirts and pants, and plenty of insecticide, but I am pretty sure none of it would have been necessary, at least at this time of year, just before the wet season sets in.  I was told that mosquitoes, in particular, do not habituate well to dark water rivers because of the tannins contained in them.  True or not, their absence was a welcome surprise.  Also surprising was the nonchalance of the swimmers (most of the tour participants) who cooled off in the river every day.  I did not, maybe because I could not quite get past the thought of the possibility that the Caiman (siblings to the alligators, but just a cousin to the crocodiles) that we had seen along the river bank not far away, might wander into the swimming area.

The Lodge is very nice, the accommodations spacious and clean, the fans keep them comfortably cool, and the food, served buffet style at the central lodge, was exceptional.  A crew of hired guides works for the Lodge and I was pleased at the efforts Rob made to connect me with one of them for one day of dedicated, though unsuccessful, search for the Trumpeter, while the others took a trip down river on the boat.  In the category of small world, my lodge supplied guide is a native of Burlington, Iowa.

At Cristalino one can, and we did, walk the jungle trails, climb to the tops of canopy towers, hike to a secret “garden” and a rocky outcrop, sit quietly by a hide as the day darkened, and, my favorite, sit back in a comfortable boat for a birding trip on the dark water river.

It was in the evening while sitting quietly by a hide as birds came to bathe in the tiny water hole, that this Giant Anteater walked close to us, apparently oblivious of its human observers.

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And it was during the course of our daily river trips that we saw Lowland Tapirs 

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And on our final trip leaving Cristalino, a trio of Giant Otters, fishing casually along the shore and then launching themselves onto a fallen tree trunk over the water, to digest and warm up in the sun.

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But wait a minute, wasn’t this supposed to be a birding trip?  Yes, indeed, and the birds were plentiful, but in the Amazon the animal life is spectacular also.  In addition to the mammals pictured above, during the course of the week we saw or heard Tufted Capuchin monkeys, Red-handed Howler Monkeys, White-cheeked Spider Monkeys,

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Capybaras, Spotted Pacas, Azara’s Agoutis, Brazilian Porcupine, Proboscis Bats, Greater Sac-winged Bats, Fishing Bats (Greater Bulldogs), Geoffroy’s Side-necked Turtles, Spectacled, Dwarf (Curvier’s) and Black Caiman, Running Lizards and a Tree Boa.

So now to the birds:  We had 5 full days of birding with no Trumpeter.  On the last day we had a very short morning available for a concentrated effort by all to find some Trumpeters.  With time running out on my effort to add this family to my life list, Rob suddenly asked for complete silence as he cupped his ear to the distant sound of—what–?  Trumpeters in the jungle undergrowth.  The first sign we had had all week.  With luck he might call them near the trail.  And luck we had.  Soon, one, two, three, four, five Trumpeters showed up on the trail (behind us), and put on a 3-4 minute show for us all.

Alisdair Hunter of Ottawa captured the moment.  With his permission, I include here his photographs of our Dark-winged Trumpeters.

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You can also Google “Dark-winged Trumpeter” at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, “Multimedia/Neotropical Birds on Line” where you can see many images of this most interesting bird, and also hear the unusual calls and moans of these noisy characters, made as they cover great swaths of territory in the jungle undergrowth.

So with the Trumpeter family added to my list, I now have 215 of the current Clement’s List of 250 Avian families.  More families are being created every year due to DNA sequencing and the resulting reclassification that is in process.  When the Clements World List was last published as a hard bound volume in 2007, which was about when I started keeping track of families, there were 203 of them.  From 203 families in 2007 to 250 in 2018 is a rapid expansion.  As for my species count, at Cristalino it increased by a modest 54 to a total of 3,708.

Following are some of the more interesting birds we saw at or near Cristalino. All of the following photos are by Alasdair Hunter, one of the participants in the tour, and are included here with his permission:

Curl-crested Aracari

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Bare-faced Currassow (female)

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Red-throated Piping Guan

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Ornate Hawk-eagle

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Agami Heron

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Hoatzin

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Blue and Yellow Macaws

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Point-tailed Palmcreeper

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Crimson-bellied Parakeets

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Sunbittern

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Blue-necked Tanager

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White-throated Toucan

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Capuchin Monkey

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My next international trip will be to the Dominican Republic in March, 2019.  Within this relatively small country it is possible for me to add 5 families, a personal gold mine, as the number of new families available to me, especially in the western hemisphere, dwindle.  The 5 new (to me) Dominican Republic families are:  Tody (2 species, Broad-billed and Narrow-billed Tody),  Palmchat (Dulus Dominicus), Hispaniolan Spindalis, Black-crowned Palm-Tanager, and Chat-Tanager (2 species, Eastern and Western). Assuming 100% success, which seems likely based on prior tour reports, that will leave only 4 families unseen (by me) in the western hemisphere: Sapayoa, missed due to safety concerns in my recent trip to Ecuador; Sharpbill, reliable only in southeast Brazil, Cuban Warblers, (2 species), and Puerto Rican Tanager.  Whether or not I will try for any of them remains to be determined.

Ecuador Northwest Birding – 2018

We arrived in Quito (elevation 9,350 feet) on August 8th, a day before our tour was to begin. This gave us an opportunity, although short, to explore Quito on the 9th.  On the morning of the 9th we taxied from the Hotel Quito to the Teleferiqo Gondola, for a cool (literally and figuratively) ride up the lower slopes of the still active Pichincha Volcano (peak elevation, 15,696 feet, last eruption 2002).   The City of Quito was built in the 16th and 17th centuries on the site of an old Inca city, and the city and its environs wraps around the eastern slopes of Pichincha.  With its current 1.6 million inhabitants, in a narrow valley, the city spreads out for miles.  We enjoyed the downward view to the city and its buildings and the upward view to Pichincha from the top of the gondola, and a bit further, as we took a short upward hike in the wind, so I was doubly winded.

Another taxi ride took us down to Old Town, where we found the enclosed market and sampled the very inexpensive lunch offerings available at the little stands in the market.  From there we took a hike up to the extremely ornate Compania de Jesus Jesuit Church.  Once again I abandoned discretion, and climbed the rickety scaffolding to the interior top of the church for an inside view of the great old church, and from its ramparts, a view west to the gigantic statue of the Winged Virgin.

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One more taxi ride took us to the Square, with its multitudes, many offers of shoeshines, excellent Gelato, and in general, a relaxing walk about the square and some of the surrounding architectural attractions. In anticipation of a strenuous week of birding beginning at 5:00 a.m. on the morrow, we took an early exit from the city to return to the hotel and a pleasant dinner with some good Chilean wine.

I have previously posted a short blog relating only to some of the Hummingbirds seen and photographed by our guide, Andres Vasquez. For context, here is a summary of our complete itinerary:  August 10, Quito to Yanacocha, where we hiked for the morning; then on to our Tandayapa Lodge for the next 3 nights; August 11, birding the upper Tandayapa Valley (7,200-5000 elevation);   August 12, birding Mashpi Amagusa area and Milpe;  August 13, at the wonderful Paz de Las Aves, for the Cock of the Rock lek and the Pittas, among others, night at Mirador del Rio Blanco; August 14, Mashpi Shungo Reserve, night at Mirador del Rio Blanco; long drive to Guango on the eastern slope, night at Guango Lodge; 15 August, back toward Quito via Papallacta and Antisana; to our hotel near the airport in Puembo, with time, arranged by Andres on the spur of the moment, for a side visit to Puembo Birding Garden nicely hosted by Mercedes.

Andres authorized me to include the following photos taken by him during our tour.

A great look at a low overhead Andean Condor at Antisano:

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A Chestnut-crowned Antpitta:

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A Flame-faced Tanager:

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A Lemon-rumped Tanager:

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A Many-striped Canastero, at about 14,000 feet on a cold, cloudy, wet and windy day, with a few snow patches along the way-yes, at the Equator:

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An Orange-breasted Fruiteater:

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A target bird, new family, Rufous-crowned Gnatpitta:

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A Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager:

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A Tawny Antpitta:

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A target bird, new family, Toucan Barbet at Amarosa:

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A White-bearded Manakin:

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A White-throated Quail-dove at Amarosa:

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Along the way, Adam and I tried to snap a few pictures on our cell phones, and here are a few of our best efforts, first mine:

Adam at TeleferiQo 

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Crimson-rumped Toucanet

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Black-backed Wood Quail   

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Adam and I at Refugio Paz de las Aves

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An Agouti 

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Cocoa tree, with cocoa bean pods (and we sampled the product, chocolate bars).

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And here are some of Adam’s shots:

The two of us:

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Here is a long view of a Black and Chestnut Eagle, which Adam was the first to spot as we relaxed at a beautiful overlook.  Andres was quite excited to find this rarity, and as we soaked in the view of one, a second flew in.

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Quail Dove at Amagua:

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A toucanet:

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At the Cock of the Rock lek:

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Golden headed Quetzel:

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Toucan:

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Snow on the mountain at the Equator:

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The two birder dudes:

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My new families for this trip were the Toucan-Barbet, the Chestnut-crowned Gnatpitta (now in the Gnateater family), and the new split from the big Tanager (Thraupidae) family, the Mitrospingidae family, consisting of just 3 former tanagers.  The one I saw was the Dusky-faced Tanager.  My fourth Ecuadorean family target, the Sapayoa, will have to await another trip, perhaps to a safer destination. In the meantime, Adam returned home and I went to the Cristalino Jungle Lodge in Brazil, primarily to see another new family for me, a Trumpeter.

 

 

 

 

 

Ecuador Hummingbirds – August 2018

Son-in-law Adam and I signed on with Tropical Birding for a private birding tour of northern Ecuador.  We engaged in extended email correspondence trying to come up with an itinerary that would include a Cock-of-the Rock lek and 4 bird families I had never seen:  Toucan Barbet, Gnateater, Sapayoa and the Mitrospingidae tanager family recently split from the greater Tanager family, Thraupidae.  Several weeks before the planned tour, Tropical Birding informed us that there had been terrorist activities in the far northern area along the Columbia border, where we would have expected to find Sapayoa.  That area was deleted from our itinerary.

Barbara and I had spent a day with a guide in the Tandayapa area near Quito when we stopped there on our way to a cruise in the Galapagos Islands a few years ago, so I had seen a number of the birds of the area.  Nevertheless, this trip produced a grand total of 158 new life birds for me, out of a total of about 320 species. Our guide, Andres, and Adam, saw and heard quite a few more than that, but with my aging eyes, I am unable to distinguish some of the birds, especially those that dwell high up in the trees, or in dark, brushy areas, so the trip actually yielded significantly more than the 320 that I was able to claim.

As the trip began, I told Andres that I would welcome his photography as the trip went along, as neither I nor Adam are adept at, nor particularly interested in, photography.  The condition attached to that invitation to take a lot of pictures, was that he would send me his better photos and allow me to use them in this blog.  He readily agreed, and the first installment of those pictures “The Hummingbirds of northern Ecuador”, follow.

The Tropical Birding list of potential sightings for the entire trip contains 65 different Hummingbird species.  That figure is startlingly large, but the mountains of Ecuador are the Mecca of the Hummingbird family.  Compare that to our 1 specie, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the only specie commonly seen anywhere east of the Rockies in North America.  Of the 65 potential Hummingbirds, I was able to see and identify 42.  Of the 42, 15 were new life birds for me.  The 7 that Andres chose to send to me for inclusion in this blog are:

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Buff-tailed Coronet

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Collared Inca

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Long-tailed Sylph

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Purple-throated Woodstar

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Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

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Sword-billed Hummingbird