Following October in southern Brazil, November and the first days of December in Ecuador, we took the early-morning TAM flight from Rio de Janeiro to Manaus on the morning of 6 December, arriving around lunchtime. This was my third trip to the Manaus region, but Hadoram’s first photographic trip to the area. We visited three main areas, one of which have only just come ‘on tap’ to birders (Tupana), and another (Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge) that offers an alternative means of accessing the Anavilhanas archipelago (in the ‘old days’ it meant several nights on a boat). We flew back to Rio on 24 December, spent Xmas there, and then continued to north-west Argentina in the New Year.
Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge (6–12 December)
This recently (2007) opened lodge lies immediately opposite the Anavilhanas archipelago, on the right (west) bank of the Rio Negro, close to the village of Novo Airão. The lodge provides transportation from Manaus, which is c.3 hours away by road, as part of its package. Accommodation is spacious and relatively luxurious, with good food to boot, and being close to a small town it has a constant electricity supply. There is even a swimming pool! Birds right around the lodge include the pallens form of Snethlage’s Tody-Tyrant Hemitriccus minor (probably a good split), Yellow-crested Manakin (common) Heterocercus flavivertex, White-winged Potoo Nyctibius leucopterus and Spectacled Owl Pulsatrix perspicillata. The very pleasant owner, Augusto, is keen to attract birders and plans to construct a tower in the not too distant future. Despite only having been open a few months, at the time of our visit, the lodge was receiving plenty of non-birding custom, so it would certainly be advisable to book in advance.
The lodge, of course, makes a fine base to visit the Anavilhanas archipelago and virtually all of the key specialties (e.g. Zimmer’s Woodcreeper Xiphorhynchus kienerii, Ash-breasted Antbird Myrmoborus lugubris, Leaden Myrmotherula assimilis, Klages’ M. klagesi and Cherrie’s Antwrens M. cherriei, etc.) of the islands can be found on a relatively short boat ride from the lodge. In addition, by boat one can also visit várzea forest in an igarapé on the west bank of the Negro, c.15 minutes downstream of the lodge. Andrew Whittaker has discovered Chestnut-headed Nunlet Nonnula amaurocephala in this area, but we were unsuccessful in finding it, despite using playback. We did see several Fiery Topazes Topaza pyra.
Birding the sandy-belt terra firme on the road into the lodge, and surrounding trails, despite appearing somewhat ‘scrappy’, is also worthwhile. Rio Negro Gnatcatcher Polioptila facilis and Spot-backed Antwren Herpsilochmus dorsimaculatus are regular constituents of mixed flocks, Pompadour Cotinga Xipholena punicea is frequently seen along the entrance road, Brown-banded Puffbird Notharchus ordii can be found close to the first igarapé downstream of the lodge, we had a couple of sightings of Bar-bellied Woodcreeper Hylexetastes stresemanni, whilst hordes of Festive Parrots Amazona festiva overfly the area at dusk. A reasonable selection of understorey Thamnophilidae includes White-cheeked Gymnopithys leucaspis and Yellow-browed Antbirds Hypocnemis hypoxantha (the latter positively abundant). White-crested Spadebill Platyrinchus platyrhynchos was obvious at the time of our visit. At least 300 species have been found in the area to date, despite very few ornithological visitors.
We spent five full days and two half days at the lodge. Those purely on a birding trip, with no photographic agenda, could certainly see the key birds in a shorter time period. Note that a visit in July / August is liable to be best.
Presidente Figueiredo (13–16 December)
We had a lot of rain during our time here, which undoubtedly affected our photographic success. Like most if not all visitors, we stayed at the Iracema Falls Hotel, a few km north of the town, and which is probably the best accommodation, despite its unprepossessing appearance. The on-site is adequate, if not exceptional, and the staff were keen to get off home early while we were present, which meant that we frequently ate earlier than we wished to. One night we went into Presidente Figueiredo, but the only half-decent restaurants that I could remember were all shut! There is good birding in the morning along the hotel driveway; we looked unsuccessfully for Dusky Purpletuft here (the species is regularly present along here in July / August). We had a very showy pair of Plumbeous Euphonia Euphonia plumbea, which we photographed, close to the entrance itself. The trail off to the left immediately beside the chalets is also a good area for birding; we saw Grey-winged Trumpeter Psophia crepitans and Olive-green Tyrannulet Phylloscartes virescens along here, as well as plenty of antbirds and other interesting species. However, in general, the birding was definitely slower than on other visits I have made to this area in August. Guianan Cock-of-the-Rocks Rupicola rupicola were nesting in the usual area close to the small waterfall, and we got good photos of both sexes. In the past I’ve seen Collared Puffbird Bucco capensis and some other interesting species in this area, but it’s best not to come here at weekends, when the area is packed with day-trippers from Presidente Figueiredo.
Although it has appeared closed for some years, it is still possible to visit the Parque Ecológico Lajes, which lies just south of the hotel on the left-hand side of the road if travelling towards Presidente Figueiredo. However, it is best to ring the owner in advance or visit a day or so in advance of when you wish to actually bird there. Willis’s Antbird Cercomacra laeta can be seen in the undergrowth right by the road outside the parque’s perimeter and the Mauritia palms have Sulphury Flycatchers Tyrannopsis sulphurea in attendance. The rocky campina inside the park can produce species typical of the habitat such as White-naped Seedeater Dolospingus fringilloides, but I’ve failed on both my visits, and on this trip we were completely ‘wiped out’ by rain on the day we visited the area.
However, one of the highlights of the trip (for me) was identifying several White-chinned Swifts Cypseloides cryptus, amongst a large flock of other swifts at the entrance to the park one afternoon. This species had only recently been discovered in Brazil, by Andy Whittaker, in the same general area. As Andy and his son have found a breeding colony, future observers should clearly be on the lookout for the species.
Due to current access difficulties, we didn’t visit the INPA ZF2 tower or the same organisation’s reserves north of Manaus, but Hadoram got perfect photographs of Point-tailed Palmcreeper Berlepschia rikeri at one of the many suitable palm groves between Presidente Figueiredo and Manaus. The reserves (and the tower) are certainly well recommended, although Crimson Fruitcrow is much harder in this area than it perhaps used to be.
Tupana Lodge (17–23 December)
Situated in the Madeira–Purus interfluvium, south of the Amazon, Tupana Lodge offers relatively basic but not inexpensive accommodation at the edge of the agricultural frontier on the road from Manaus to Porto Velho. It takes roughly four hours to reach the lodge from Manaus, including ferry crossings. The accommodation is simple but clean and adequate; power is supplied by a generator. An interesting feature is the ‘upstairs deck’ above the rooms and dining area, which permits reasonable views of the surrounding canopy. Early-morning watches, especially, produced reasonably regular sightings of Kawall’s Amazon Amazona kawalli, Scarlet-shouldered Parrotlet Touit huetii, Short-tailed Parrot Graydidascalus brachyurus, Chestnut-capped Bucco macrodactylus and White-necked Puffbirds Notharcus hyperrhynchus, many tanagers (including the rare Dotted Tanager Tangara varia), White-browed Purpletuft Iodopleura isabellae, Chestnut Celeus elegans jumana and Scaly-breasted Woodpeckers C. grammicus, a pair of White-browed Hawks Leucopternis kuhli at a nest (previously undescribed; paper due to appear in Ornitol. Neotrop.), Curl-crested Aracari Pteroglossus beauharnaesii, as well as two undescribed species, one a new Hemitriccus (set to be described by Mario Cohn-Haft), the other yet another new Herpsilochmus (not that originally discovered in Rondônia during the Field Museum expeditions in the 1980s), and which is also being described by Mario Cohn-Haft. Black Antbird Cercomacra serva and Peruvian Warbling Antbird Hypocnemis peruviana are also common around the lodge clearing.
The lodge has a very long trail system covering many tens of kms, although there are only a handful of different trails that you can easily cover. December is probably a relatively quiet time, compared to July or August, in terms of song, but large mixed-species flocks, which frequently contained Citron-bellied Attila Attila citriniventris, were regularly encountered fairly close the lodge (as at Anavilhanas Jungle Lodge, there are plans to build a tower at this locality). Obligate ant-following antbirds are a major feature: White-throated Antbird Gymnopithys salvini seemed common in terra firme with many small palms, as was an ‘unscaled’ form of Scale-backed Antbird Willisornis poecilinotus griseiventris. Less frequently encountered were Sooty Antbird Myrmeciza fortis and Hairy-crested Antbird Rhegmatorhina melanosticta. Elegant Woodcreeper Xiphorhynchus elegans was very common and Bar-bellied Woodcreeper Hylexetastes stresemanni much less so during our six-day visit. Pearly Antshrike Megastictus margaritatus was a reasonably common constituent of the midstorey, especially in areas with palms, but the vocally different form of Undulated Antshrike Frederickena unduligera here never came to playback (always singing from some distance off).
Andrew Whittaker is collating data from this lodge for publication. If you visit the area, please send him your bird records (Andrew@birdingbraziltours.com). Many thanks.