Birding and Photography at Iguazu Falls, Brazil, July 2003

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT

Participants: Sergio Corbet


Iguazu Falls, Brazil

by Sergio Corbet

During the last month of January I bird guided Lars Johansson around Costanera Sur NR in Buenos Aires. He was back from an 'Antarctica Pelagic Trip' and wanted to photograph some of the local avifauna before flying home to Sweden. Fortunately (weather conditions were perfect!) his quest proved successful and so now he calls me again, this time to guide him and his wife Anita during their 3 days stay at Iguazu before going on to Brazil into the "Pantanal".

Guiding a professional nature photographer is not an easy task at all. One has to continuosly bear in mind that such people are specialists seeking "the perfect picture", therefore the guide's spotting skills must be matched with great patience! Time has no limits when it comes to focusing on a good subject as a good angle and correct lighting conditions are continuosly looked for before hearing that "clic" sound and then another one "just in case".

On our first day, we met at the International Airport at Foz do Iguazu in Brazil. From there we went to the Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls to take pictures as at that time of day the Falls had the best light and, if possible, also look at some birds. The Falls are shared with Argentina, so we were looking at the Argentine side almost all of the time.

Most of the best viewing is from Brazil except for a few places such as the "Devil's Gorge", by far the highest and mightiest Fall in all the area! Upon arrival, the first birds we saw were several Black Vultures circling above the Falls, gliding and seeking thermals. While walking along the paved trails, I heard the call of a Bananaquit and once spotted I showed it to Lars and Anita only to learn that they already had seen it before in Central America!

A bit later on, while Lars was taking pictures of another group of Falls, a couple of Purple-throated Euphonias came to feed on the seeds of a bush.They were so close that binoculars proved unnecessary giving us a good sighting of their fantastic colours (mainly the male!). While walking along the trails, at some places the mist flying from the Falls came upon us and cameras and lenses had to be covered to avoid being soaked.

Suddenly we saw a Neotropic Cormorant leaping out of the water, flying low and landing on some dead twigs to stretch its wings to dry up in the sun. Nearby a Great Egret stood motionless, probably waiting to catch a stunned minnow drifting by. As the sun was setting, thousands of Great Dusky Swifts started to arrive and dart into their roosting sites close to the Falls.

On the next morning we went to the Argentinian side to take more pictures of the Falls and make our way to the "Devil's Gorge". Some early morning birding proved to be rewarding as a Blue Dacnis couple showed up at the parking lot as well as several Toco Toucans and a Three-striped Flycatcher. While walking along a trail we came to a clearing where several "Guarani" indians were offering different crafts for sale. About half a dozen Plush-crested Jays landed in a tree above and one of them came down to pick at a leftover sandwich. A vendor darted back and 'shushed' away the Jay much to our amusement as Lars seemingly got a good picture of the bird trying to take a bite at the sandwich!

The picture taking task at the Iguazu Falls took us well into the afternoon. The day's conditions were sensational and proved to be a total success! Lars and Anita were completely "amazed" by the views of the "Devil's Gorge", with Lars shooting rolls and rolls of film as if in a frenzied state he could never come out of! We also had time to see some more birds like a Snail Kite, a couple of Amazon Kingfishers and a couple of White-winged Swallows resting on a boulder partly protruding out of the water in a side flowing canal.

While making a short stop at a clearing along the trails, I spotted a Red-rumped Cacique making sounds as if trying a new song. A Squirrel Cuckoo arrived and was immediately chased away by the intolerant Cacique.

Later in the afternoon, once back at the parking lot and still with the sun up, Lars started to take pictures of the birds I showed him around. Now he added Toucans, Blue-winged Parrotlets, a Red-crested Finch, a Field Flicker and many others before darkness sent us back to the hotel. It proved to be a very rewarding day. Because it was the winter season, temperatures were not high. In such conditions the butterflies as well as animal activity was very low.

Only on the last day did the temperatures warm up allowing some butterflies to take to the wing as well as some wild rodents similar to Guinea pigs locally called "Cuis". The morning of the third and last day was spent a the Castillo's family garden in the very heart of Iguazu city, a place specializing in hummingbirds. I very much recommend to visit. Here Lars and Anita were seeing hummingbirds around them so close that they could feel the wind and humming sound made by their tiny wings!

Lars not only added half a dozen of different Hummingbirds species to his life list, but succeeded taking amazing pictures of the Black Jacobine, the fantastic Planalto Hermit and the incredible Violet-capped Woodnimph. Several different and thirsty Tanagers came by as well such as Euphonias, among them the Chestnut-bellied Euphonia and a couple of Chlorophonias also showed up.

Early in the afternoon I drove Lars and Anita to the Foz do Iguazu airport to see them take off en route to their next destiny, the Pantanal.

Black Jacobin, copyright Paul Veron

Species seen

Nature photographers are seeking "the perfect picture", so the subject's quality is very important as there is no time limit to be spent while taking pictures. In such conditions the number of species seen can be small. Weather conditions were very good, having clear skies and thus good sunlight during all the 3 days.

Neotropic Cormorant, Phalacrocorax brasilianus.
Great Egret, Ardea alba.
Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis.
Brazilian Duck, Amazonetta braziliensis.
Black Vulture, Coragyps atratus.
Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura.
Snail Kite, Rostrhamus sociabilis.
Long-winged Harrier, Circus buffoni.
Roadside Hawk, Buteo magnirostris.
Southern Caracara, Caracara plancus.
Southern Lapwing, Vanellus chilensis.
Rock Dove, Columba livia.
Picazuro Pigeon, Columba picazuro.
Eared Dove, Zenaida auriculata.
Plain-breasted Ground Dove, Columbina minuta.
Ruddy Ground Dove, Columbina tapalcoti.
Blue-winged Parrotlet, Forpus xanthopterygius.
Scaly-headed Parrot, Pionus maximiliani.
Squirrel Cuckoo, Piaya cayana.
Smooth-billed Ani, Crotophaga ani.
Guira Cuckoo, Guira guira.
Great Dusky Swift, Cypseloides senex.
Planalto Hermit, Phaethornis pretrei.
Black Jacobin, Melanotrochilus fuscus.
Glittering-bellied Emerald, Chlorostilbon aureoventris.
Violet-capped Woodnymph, Thalurania glaucopis.
Gilded Sapphire, Hylocharis chrysura.
Amazon Kingfisher, Chloroceryle amazona.
Toco Toucan, Ramphastos toco.
Field Flicker, Colaptes campestris.
Rufous Hornero, Furnarius rufus.
Mouse-coloured Tapaculo, Scytalopus speluncae.
Vermilion Flycatcher, Pyrocephalus rubinus.
Cattle Tyrant, Machetornis rixosus.
Great Kiskadee, Pitangus sulphuratus.
Three-striped Flycatcher, Conopias trivirgata.
Plush-crested Jay, Cyanocorax chrysops.
White-winged Swallow, Tachycineta albiventer.
White-rumped Swallow, Tachycineta leucorrhoa.
House Wren, Troglodytes aedon.
Rufous-bellied Thrush, Turdus rufiventris.
Pale-breasted Thrush, Turdus leucomelas.
Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Mimus saturninus.
Bananaquit, Coereba flaveola.
Blue Dacnis, Dacnis cayana.
Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Chlorophonia cyanea.
Golden-rumped Euphonia, Euphonia aureata.
Purple-throated Euphonia, Euphonia chlorotica.
Chestnut-bellied Euphonia, Euphonia pectoralis.
Sayaca Tanager, Tharaupis sayaca.
Red-crested Finch, Coryphospingus cucullatus.
Saffron Finch, Sicalis flaveola.
Rufous-collared Sparrow, Zonotrichia capensis.
Red-rumped Cacique, Cacicus haemorrhous.
Chopi Blackbird, Gnorimopsar chopi.
Epaulet Oriole, Icterus cayennensis.
House Sparrow, Passer domesticus.

On several occasions, while Lars was concentrated taking his pictures, I managed to see several additional bird species:

American Kestrel, Falco sparverius.
Common Snipe, Gallinago g. paraguaiae.
Borrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia.
White Woodpecker, Melanerpes candilus.
Planalto Tyrannulet, Phyllomyias fasciatus.
White-necked Thrush, Turdus albicollis.
Fawn-breasted Tanager, Pipraeidea melanonata.
Green-chinned Euphonia, Euphonia chalybea.

A great total of 65 bird species!