Mato Grosso, Brazil, October 2019

Just returned from eight days of birding (and mammaling?) in the Pantanal and Chapada regions of Mato Grosso, both adjacent to the city of Cuiabá. This is very close to the geometric center of the South American continent. Apparently there are some markers or monuments that capture this fact, but, as is often the case, we don’t bother seeking out such sites, because birds.

Black-collared Hawk, seen everywhere

It was a bit involved getting there: Minneapolis to Dallas, then overnight (10 hours) Dallas to Sao Paulo, then a long (full day) wait in the airport, and then backtracking two hours to Cuiabá, which we flew over on the flight from Dallas. While we were at the Saó Paulo airport we wandered around outside for a bit, pushing our luggage on a cart, staring up into the scarce trees at Saffron Finches and House Wrens, of all things, while the locals looked at us as if we were from Mars.

Also seen everywhere are these small Caimans

Our guide Johnny picked us up Saturday morning and we then drove south to the Pantanal. Our first destination was the Aymara Lodge. This friendly and comfy hotel lies just inside the northern boundary of the Pantanal wetland and was good for various woodcreepers, among other birds.

Buff-throated Woodcreeper

I was also happy to see my first wild Coati there. My maternal grandfather actually had one of these as a pet in the late 4o’s (and she was named Suzy). Seems like a terrible idea.

Poor nighttime photo of one of Suzy’s relatives

October in the Pantanal is hot; we experienced upwards of 40 C / 100 F. Unsurprisingly, not much wildlife is to be seen during midday, but at daybreak a host of otherwise invisible birds suddenly appear, such as this currasow:

Female Bare-faced Currasow

Rainy season still being a few weeks away, the little bit of water that remains was very popular with birds and mammals alike. No surprise why this is the busy season, as the wildlife is fairly concentrated and easy to find.

Marsh Deer at Aymara

No shortage of Greater Rheas here. We were treated to several, including a huge male tending his brood.

Male Greater Rhea taking care of a few chicks – the little grey blobs in front of him.

After two nights in the northern Pantanal, we went south to Porto Jofre, where the road ends at at the Cuiabá River. Only about 120 km, but it was a good four hours of dirt road and sketchy bridges.  We stayed at the Hotel Pantanal Norte.

On the Cuiabá River

Dozens of boats cruise this stretch of river, principally looking for big cats, but there is plenty of bird-life also.

Capped Heron

But even a couple of hardcore birders like us had to be awed by the felines patrolling the river.

One of six different Jaguars we saw over two days on the river

Also being cat-owners, we are quite familiar with facial expressions like this one:

When our cats get this look, it means: ‘Where is my food, human?”

Here is a nice prospective dinner for a hungry jaguar:

Capybara and Wattled Jacanas – immature and adult
Another easy find in the Pantanal are the largest of the Macaws, the Hyacinth:


Hyacinth Macaws getting their Daily Allowance of minerals

Other denizens of the river include plenty of the bizarre Sunbitterns:


… and the even stranger Great Potoo:

Great Potoo

Because of the extreme heat, the schedules here start nice and early, with breakfast at 5AM. I love hotels that keep birder’s hours.

Toco Toucan
Jabiru nest
Fuscous Flycatcher
Buff-necked Ibis

After two full days on the river, we headed back north to the edge of the Pantanal, for a day at Pousada Piuval. Looking at the eBird lists while here I noticed that we just missed, by one day, a guide that I had hired for half a day many years ago in Miami. Odd.

Blue-and-yellow Macaw
Capybara with Giant Cowbird
Amazonian Motmot
Tree full of Fork-tailed Flycatchers

Finally we spent our last two nightsat Pousada do Parque in the Chapada dos Guimaraes, a national park north of Cuiabá which sits on the plateaus.

Lettered Aracari
Glittering-bellied Emerald
Small-billed Tinamou

Shortly before we headed back to Cuiabá for our final night in Mato Grosso, I got an unexpected email from Mark Smiles, our guide from the UAE. In another strange coincidence, he was just leaving Cuiabá on his way up to the national park that we were just departing. We probably passed each other on the freeway. How strange is that?

Time For Go To Bed!

Brazil, April 2019

Just completed a week-long trip to Brazil, focusing on the Atlantic Forest area as well as the central Cerrado region. We spent most of our time (six days/nights) at REGUA (Reserva Ecológica de Guapiaçu) and did quite well there. All together we recorded 253 species and 134 lifers in about eight days of birding.

Maroon-Bellied Parakeets at REGUA

REGUA is a reserve with huge restored areas of the original South Atlantic rainforest. They have recorded 480 bird species on the site, with 118 being endemic to this area.

White-Flanked Antwren

There is an eco-lodge on the site; the food was good, the room was large, and every evening they served complimentary caipirinhas, a rum and lime drink. They also have a great bird guide (Adilei) available.

Rufescent Tiger-Heron

Getting to REGUA is quite easy, as it is only about a two-hour drive northeast of Rio de Janeiro. They arranged for transportation to and from the airport.

Crested Black-Tyrant

While everything went well at REGUA, getting around in other parts of Brazil was more of a challenge than we anticipated. We expected lots of Spanish-speakers, but this was not the case. Understanding written Portuguese was not too difficult, but most of our conversations were very confused.

Rufous-Fronted Thornbirds

At REGUA we did three days guided birding on the site, and three days with excursions to adjacent areas having different habitats. Specifically, Macaé de Cima, Sumidouro, and Pico da Caledônia. These are 2-3 hour drives from the reserve, and all worth visiting.

Black-and-Gold Cotinga
Immature Chaco Eagle
Surucua Trogon
Variegated Flycatcher

We did one night birding trip and found Giant Snipe, Rufous-browed, Mottled, and Tropical Screech Owls, as well as Common Paraque.

Tropical Screech-Owl
Mottled Owl

Best bird? Probably what we found in the Sumidouro region north of REGUA: many Three-Toed Jacamars, a species considered rare for the region. Few things are better than reporting a ‘rarity’ in eBird and having plenty of pictures to back it up.

Three-Toed Jacamar

After leaving REGUA, we spent a day and a half in Brasília, as it was on the way back and because it offers a different kind of habitat we’d never visited before – the dry Cerrado savanna.

Scaled Dove

The good news about birding in Brasília is that there is plenty of Cerrado to explore. The bad part is that transportation options are limited, and the large savannas are not particularly close to the city center.

Southern Caracara

One such area is the Jardim Botânico de Brasília, which lies about 18km from the center of the city. We spent the better part of our first day here, taking taxis both ways. Getting a taxi back to the city required some help from the guards at the entrance to the garden. You cannot hail a cab off the street out there.

Masked Gnatcatcher

In the savannas we had nice finds like Collared Crescentchest and Flavescent Warbler. On Saturday, we decided the spend the morning at Parque da Cidade Sarah Kubitschek – not the best hotspot in the area (that would be the National Park of Brasília, north of town, which we never made it to), but it was easy to access on foot. We we first rewarded with a Grey Monjita, previously unreported there.

Grey Monjita

This city park actually had rather good birding, and we picked up four lifers there, including the Monjita and oddly, a Toco Toucan. I’d never expected to see one of these outside of a rainforest, but there it was, in a small bare tree, overlooking the picnic tables and playgrounds.

Toco Toucan
Campo Flicker

This park also features Campo Flickers, Chalk-Browed Mockingbirds, Rufous Horneros, Chopi Blackbirds, and countless Burrowing Owls.

Burrowing Owls