For additional information, please contact me at: spma(at)charterhouse.org.uk or spm_allen(at)hotmail.com
Transport and Logistics
Due to perceived complexities surrounding logistics for what are quite remote and little-known sites, as well as rather a tight schedule in terms of time, we decided to get the whole itinerary pre-booked through Andy Whittaker of Birding Brazil. We spent a lot of time in conjunction with Andy deciding which sites we wanted to visit and for how long, and Mike Catsis took on the lion's share of the email communication in the long planning phase when we tried to fit sites that we wanted to visit around flight schedules and other constraints. In the event it transpired that in fact a lot, if not all of the sites could be visited independently with the appropriate contacts and plenty of time, although Birding Brazil worked hard to get things right for us and make the trip as smooth as possible. With one or two inevitable exceptions, it was well worth paying a little extra to save what would have been a considerable amount of red tape regarding permits for reserves (some of which would be difficult on one's own, I suspect), internal flights, car hire and hotel bookings which cost birders time in the field. For birders wishing to see as wide a range of Amazonian Brazil's speciality species in a limited amount of time, I would recommend using Andy Whittaker to set up the trip for you.
After considerable deliberation, in the end we decided to include the following sites: the Manaus area, including the Presidente Figuereido area north of the city, the INPA tower, the two campina sites and Ducke reserve; a three day, two night river trip on the Solimoes and Negro; the little-explored Borba area; Amazonia NP, and Carajas, with an obligatory one night stop at Santarem. Sites that we discussed and decided against were Sao Gabriel de Cachoeira, a location favoured by various big tour companies due to its pleasant but expensive accommodation at King's Island lodge (apparently currently shut as of late 2003); Caixuana, a research station owned by the Goeldi Museum in Belem but which we discarded due to significant time taken to get there and significant overlap with other sites; and Alta Floresta/Rio Cristalino, due also to expense and the fact that it could be done independently on another trip.
In terms of flights, I pre-booked through Journey Latin America. Flying into Rio via Sao Paulo for my two weeks in the southeast, then out of Brasilia, changing planes at Sao Paulo was the basic package, and also included in the price of £978 UKP were the following flights: Sao Paulo-Manaus, Santarem-Belem, Belem-Carajas and Carajas-Brasilia, the internal flights with Varig coming under a Mercosur airpass. Other flights that we took on much smaller planes with the local airline Rico for the Manaus-Borba return and then also flights Manaus-Itaituba and Itaituba-Santarem were included in the fee we paid to Birding Brazil.
The $2000 US per person that we paid to Andy Whittaker's company included everything except food (which was included at Amazonia NP and on the boat), and car hire in Manaus for our few days north of the city, and at Carajas. All accommodation was included, and was comfortable without being top of the range, whilst certain places were full board. At Borba we were ferried around by pre-paid taxi and boat, at Amazonia NP it was a 4x4 that we had constantly at our disposal, and the three days on the river boat included full board with excellent food (hiring a boat like this costs $400 US per day all in), and allowed total flexibility for wherever we wanted to go.
Sat 19th July 08:30 rendezvous with Mike Catsis at Guarulhos airport 10:45-13:30 flight to Manaus, Heinz Remold nearly missing his connection from Newark but meeting us on board. 14:30-18:30 pick up car and 'guide' and brief visits to Ducke reserve and INPA campina at km 44 on road to Presidente Figueiredo. Night Pousada Chez Les Rois, Manaus.
Sun 20th July 06:00-12:00 Ducke reserve; 14:00-18:00 INPA campina, km 44. Night Pousada Chez Les Rois, Manaus.
Mon 21st July 08:30-10:00 flight Manaus-Borba, met by local contact; 11:30-16:00 birding in forest patches near town. Night Lanas Bela, Borba.
Tue 22nd July 06:00-14:00 trails on far side of Rio Mapia; 15:00-17:00 boat trip on Rio Mapia. Night Lanas Bela, Borba.
Wed 23rd July 06:00-13:00 trails on far side of Rio Mapia; 14:00-17:00 boat trip and clearing. Night Lanas Bela, Borba.
Thu 24th July 06:00-16:00 trail on left near boatman's house before Rio Mapia; 16:30-17:30 Rio Mapia area. Night Lanas Bela, Borba.
Fri 25th July 06:30-09:00 disturbed habitat near Borba; 11:00-11:40 flight Borba-Manaus; 12:00-16:30 pick up car, drive to Presidente Figueiredo, with stop at bridge at km 82. Night Iracema Falls Hotel.
Sat 26th July 04:30-06:00 drive to INPA tower at km 50; 06:00-12:00 INPA tower; 12:30-14:00 forest at base of tower; 16:00-17:30 Lajes reserve, near Presidente Figueiredo. Night Iracema Falls Hotel.
Sun 27th July 06:00-11:00 Lajes reserve (rain); 14:00-18:00 Iracema Falls area. Night Iracema Falls Hotel.
Mon 28th July 06:00-12:00 Iracema Falls area (rain); 15:00-17:00 drive to Manaus. Night Pousada Chez Les Rois, Manaus.
Tues 29th July 04:30 pick up the 'Iguana' at CEASA port and sail to Machantaria Island in the Solimões river; 06:00-16:30 birding Machantaria area (some rain); 17:00-23:00 sail up the Rio Negro to Anavilhanas. Night on board the Iguana.
Wed 30th July 06:00-11:00 creek in Anavilhanas archipelago; 15:00-17:00 Igarape-acu, Rio Negro. Night on board sailing down towards the Solimões.
Thu 31st July 06:00-18:00 different areas of Machantaria Island area then back to Manaus. Night Pousada Chez Les Rois, Manaus.
Fri 1st Aug 08:00-09:30 flight to Itaituba, met by crew of guides and cook. Transfer in 4x4 to Uruá. 15:00-18:00 Birding on Uruá trail and road to 2kms north of Uruá. Night Uruá guard post.
Sat 2nd Aug 06:00-11:00 Capelinha trail; 11:30-12:30 Buburé; 15:00-18:00 Marshy area and clearing 2kms to the north of Uruá. Night Uruá guard post.
Sun 3rd Aug 06:00-12:00 Uruá trail and adjacent roadside; 15:00-18:00 roadside birding near Uruá. Night Uruá guard post.
Mon 4th Aug 06:00-12:00 Capelinha trail and roadside; 15:00-18:00 Uruá trail and roadside near Capelinha trail. Night Uruá guard post.
Tues 5th Aug 06:00-09:30 Road near Capelinha trail; 10:00-12:00 Uruá trail; 14:00-18:00 roadside birding 20kms beyond Capelinha trail. Night Uruá guard post.
Wed 6th Aug 09:30-10:45 Flight Itaituba - Santarem; 13:00-15:00 aborted attempt at reaching Tapajos forest; 15:00-18:00 birding in patches of secondary forest and degraded habitats near Santarem. Night Hotel Amazon Park, Santarem.
Thu 7th Aug 07:00-12:00 Flight Santarem - Carajas with a stopover in Belem. 14:30-18:00 Birding along track near airport. Night Hotel Jatoba Park, Nucleo Urbano, Carajas.
Fri 8th Aug 06:00-12:00 Rio Parauapebas track and trails. 14:00-18:00 Aguas Claras road (beyond the mine). Night Hotel Jatoba Park, Nucleo Urbano, Carajas
Sat 9th Aug 06:00-13:00 Aguas Claras road; 14:00-18:00 over the pass of Aguas Claras road. Night Hotel Jatoba Park, Nucleo Urbano, Carajas
Sun 10th Aug 06:00-12:30 Aguas Claras road; 14:00-18:00 Salobo road and ‘kanga'. Night Hotel Jatoba Park, Nucleo Urbano, Carajas
Mon 11th Aug 06:00-13:00 Aguas Claras road. 14:00-18:00 Salobo road escarpment. Night Hotel Jatoba Park, Nucleo Urbano, Carajas
Tue 12th Aug 06:00-10:00 Top of Aguas Claras road and dry forest on ridge. 11:30-12:30 Rio Parauapebas trails. 14:15-16:45 Flight to Brasilia. Night at Peter Kaestner's house, Brasilia.
Wed 13th Aug 06:00-09:00 Scrubby area behind Brasilia NP; 09:30-12:30 Swimming pool area and gallery forest in Brasilia NP. 13:00-15:00 Relaxing at Peter's house. Late afternoon flight to London via Sao Paulo.
Thu 14th Aug Arrive Heathrow at 14:15
Andy Whittaker and Kevin Zimmer are working on a field guide to Brazil that is due out in 2005 at the earliest. Due to the large number of potential splits and identification problems, particularly amongst Woodcreepers and Furnariids, I would suggest that Volume Two of Ridgely and Tudor's Birds of South America (1994), covering the Oscine passerines, is invaluable, despite its weight. Deodato Souza's All the Birds of Brazil: An Identification Guide does a job in that it illustrates some species not depicted anywhere else but it is incomplete (eg no mention of Todirostrum senex), taxonomically suspect in places and cannot under any circumstances be trusted to solve some of the more difficult identification issues from the limited text and rudimentary plates.
There are few trip reports available, certainly for the areas away from Manaus (Borba and Carajas in particular), but we did take along the report written by Ron Hoff of an Ornifolks trip in 2001 to several areas that we were visiting, as well as the site notes by Jeremy Minns on Arthur Grosset's website, www.arthurgrosset.com. We relied on Andy Whittaker for specific information about where to bird at particular sites, whilst we gleaned potential species lists from itineraries and trip reports of some of the major tour companies in the UK and the US.
I would like to thank Andy Whittaker for his help preparing the trip and organising the logistics, as well as providing us with useful information about sites and birds at many sites and thus helping us plan strategies for certain areas. Thanks also to Chris Jones and Dave Willis whom we met at Iracema and then again at Carajas, for exchanging information about sites during our time at the latter, and particularly for driving half an hour back to the hotel to let us know they had found Black-chested Tyrant just as we were packing to go to the airport, thus allowing us an ultimately frustrating hour with them failing to re-find the bird before having to catch our flight! Their good company in the evenings certainly increased the enjoyment of that part of the trip. Thanks too to Barry Walker who helped us out with tapes of some of the rare specialities. I would also like to express our gratitude to all those who made the trip such a memorable experience, including our guides Natan at Borba, Paulo at Santarem, Roy on the riverboat and Adelson and his family and Rafael at Amazonia NP. Particular thanks go to Peter Kaestner for his extremely generous hospitality in civilised Brasilia when we were on our knees with exhaustion at the end of the trip.
Manaus is a hot, humid and bustling city close to the famed 'meeting of the waters' where the blackwater Rio Negro meets the whitewater, silt-filled Amazon or Rio Solimoes. It is a good base for several good birding areas within an hour or two's drive from the city, and a number of Guianan Shield specialities can be found in the forests alongside a few species of a more localised distribution, the latter particularly on the rivers.
Reserva Ducke is a good patch of forest administered by INPA, from whom permits apparently need to be obtained to visit. The entrance is on the right at about km26 along the road to the east of the city towards Itacoatiara; although not signposted, there is an INPA sign up at the start of the track. The headquarters, where there are some basic facilities and one might be able to arrange to stay, are accessible along this muddy dirt track that may be impassable after heavy rain in a regular vehicle. The birding is essentially along one quite wide trail leading down from the main clearing and into forest, and can be quite good, although as in many other areas the real specialities are rather thin on the ground. Old reports tell of a tower which is along a trail on the right about three kilometres along the main trail, but it is not for the faint-hearted and the INPA tower is a much better bet. The reserve seems to be a good site for White-fronted Manakin, a Guianan speciality not found in Venezuela, and a number of other more common specialities of the region such as Pompadour Cotinga, Guianan Toucanet, Black Nunbird, Black-headed Antbird and Dusky Parrot are quite readily found, some around the clearing itself, although Grey-winged Trumpeter, Red-billed Woodcreeper and Guianan Red-Cotinga require more luck.
The INPA campina, at km 44 on the BR-174 highway going north to Presidente Figueiredo is a good site for some of the localised sand-forest specialities of the region. You need to turn into a track on the left side of the road as you go north and leave your car out of sight in the pull-off along here. There are two areas to cover here, and they can be done in a few hours, often as an afternoon visit due to its proximity to the INPA tower. This track leads through quite tall dry woodland into a shrubby clearing; along here Yellow-crested Manakin and Spotted Puffbird are possible and we found Plumbeous Euphonia in the clearing area. On the other side of the main road is the trail into the reserve itself. Saffron-crested Tyrant-Manakin occurs in the tall woodland, whilst in the open patches of campina, Bronzy Jacamar, Pale-bellied Mourner and Pelzeln's Tody-Tyrant can be found, although beware getting lost as you try to track down a calling bird when in pursuit of the latter.
The INPA tower is a prime birding spot and experience and one that should be on everyone's itinerary. You need permission to make a visit here through INPA and it is apparently tricky to do this at the weekend (although the logistics were all arranged for us through Birding Brazil). At km 50 on the BR-174, there is a wide, obvious track off to the left as you drive north (which can be very slippery and impassable in anything other than a 4x4 after heavy rain), and the tower is about 250 metres along a muddy forest track 15.5 kms from the main road. It is a sturdy construction with wide platforms, stairs and handrails and should hold no fears even for those who have difficulties with heights. Many people visit the tower from Presidente Figuereido, and thus need to leave very early to get there for dawn, which is important. Specialities that should be seen on any given visit in good weather should include Caica and Red-fan Parrots, Olive-green Tyrannulet, Spot-backed Antwren, Glossy-backed Becard, Pompadour Cotinga, and Guianan Gnatcatcher, whilst Black-faced Hawk, Dotted Tanager, Sapphire-rumped Parrotlet, Racket-tailed Coquette, Painted Tody-Flycatcher and especially the rare Crimson Fruitcrow may well require more than one morning. Harpy and Crested Eagles are also possible but obviously one should never expect either. At the base of the tower there is excellent forest, as indeed there is all the way along this road, which leads to the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Projects camp, visited by one or two tour companies and famous for its White-winged and Rufous Potoos, both of which are difficult, although the former has been heard near the tower. In the forest interior around the tower, a wide range of localised species are possible, including Yellow-billed Jacamar, Wing-banded Wren, Spotted Antpitta, Ferruginous-backed Antbird and Curve-billed Scythebill, whilst birding along the road itself might well produce Marail Guan or Black Curassow, particularly in the morning, and even Blue-backed Tanager has been recorded in the area recently.
Marchantaria Island is the name for the large area of successional whitewater river islands in the Rio Solimoes (Amazon) about two hours by boat from Manaus which hold a wide range of specialities only found in this interesting habitat. The complexities of the ever-changing system of islands and channels make this is a trip which one really could not do without enlisting local help. Our trip was booked through Amazon Nut Safaris for a three-day package, although one could doubtless hire a boat independently from the CEASA port to make a day trip to the area, which would reduce the cost, although it is imperative that your boat has a motorised launch. Due to the unpredictable nature of the river (water levels were so high that there was hardly any dry land at all when we were there) it is impossible to give sites and it is a question of getting into a range of habitats. It might be an idea to try to get hold of GPS co-ordinates if possible for some of the more difficult species, particularly the rare Scaled Spinetail which was not being seen by groups at that time due to difficulty of access to its tall Cecropia habitat. Amongst the many specialities of these islands, particularly noteworthy species include Festive and Short-tailed Parrots (both common), Tui Parakeet, Olive-spotted Hummingbird, Parker's (Gynerium cane), Red-and-white and White-bellied Spinetails, Brownish Elaenia, Lesser Wagtail-Tyrant (local), Riverside Tyrannulet, 'Island' Fuscous Flycatcher of the race fuscatior and Pearly-breasted Conebill (uncommon in tall Cecropia stands). One can also visit the south bank of the Amazon at Careiro but we decided against this (and didn't have enough fuel in the end either) because there was nothing there in the way of birds that we hadn't found or wouldn't find elsewhere.
The Anavilhanas Archipelago is another fascinating area, a series of islands of flooded forest in the black water Rio Negro some five hours by boat from Manaus. An overnight stop on a boat in this area is key in order to find some of the specialities of the region, many of which are relatively commonly observed along one creek leading to a large lake in the centre of one of the islands that is well known to the mainstream boat operators who have taken birders before. Target species here include Zimmer's Woodcreeper (also possible in taller woodland at Marchantaria), Ash-breasted and Black-chinned Antbirds, Blackish-grey Antshrike, Klage's and Leaden Antwrens, Snethlage's Tody-Tyrant, Amazonian Inezia and Varzea Schiffornis. Cherrie's Antwren also occurs in its preferred habitat, sandy-soil lake edges, although is more regularly encountered on the west bank of the Rio Negro at Igarape-Acu, which also holds a population of the little-known Brown-headed Greenlet, although neither are easy to come by. Crestless Curassow occurs all over this area and is occasionally heard booming at the right time of year but is very difficult to see.
This is a relatively small town about 110 kms north of Manaus on the BR-174 that goes north to Boa Vista and the Venezuelan border. On the way be sure to stop at the bridge at km 82 which is a stake out for Point-tailed Palmcreeper which is very tape-responsive. There are various options for accommodation but the best place to stay, despite the expense, is the Iracema Falls Hotel, which is located in a fairly extensive patch of mainly secondary forest some 10 kms to the north of town in which a number of quite interesting species have nevertheless been recorded. Our time there was blighted by rain but we did have a fleeting encounter with the sought-after Guianan Red-Cotinga which is present in the area alongside other specialities such as Grey-winged Trumpeter, Little Chachalaca, Red-billed Woodcreeper, the rare Dusky Purpletuft, Purple-breasted Cotinga, White-throated Manakin and Red-billed Pied and Blue-backed Tanagers, although seeing some of these requires much luck. A fine selection of more widespread Amazonian species also occurs and a couple of days just birding here, on the trail that leads from the main track to the waterfall, and particularly on the relatively short track beyond the swimming pool that also leads to a river, would be worthwhile.
The other main attraction of the area is the Lajes campina reserve, situated between Iracema Falls and the town of Presidente Figuereido, a small but very diverse area where open rocky campina meets dense, stunted sandy-soil woodland and then taller humid rainforest. The main specialities are in the campina adjacent to the clearing over the small river just inside the entrance. These include White-naped Seedeater, Rufous-crowned Elaenia, Green-tailed Goldenthroat and Pale-bellied Mourner, whilst Black Manakin, Pelzeln's Tody-Tyrant (both elusive), the duidae race of Fuscous Flycatcher and Bronzy Jacamar occur in the denser area of low forest, and at the rainforest edge possibilities include Guianan Cock-of-the-rock and Blue-backed Tanager.
Although famous as an old collecting site, this is an exciting new area as far as visiting birders are concerned and one that I would imagine will become increasingly popular as its fame spreads. It is a quiet, sleepy backwater of a town on the east bank of the wide Rio Madeira accessible by boat (2-3 days) or air (a cheap 45 minutes flight three times a week - Monday, Wednesday and Friday with Rico) from Manaus. Its surrounding forests, particularly those beyond the smaller Rio Mapia some 45 minutes drive from town, are home to an excellent array of little-known birds many of which are difficult to get elsewhere.
There are a number of areas to cover and there is significant scope for
exploration for those with plenty of time, but the thing to do is to arrange to be looked after by the genial Natan, a local taxi driver used by Andy's groups who can be contacted by phone on 512-1202 in Borba, although note that he speaks little or no English. He in turn can arrange for the hire of Barroso, a boatman and local dignitary who lives close to the Mapia and will ferry you around the river to get to the trails on the other side where the most continuous, impressive forest is to be found. Its proximity to an Indian reservation lends it a certain degree of protection, although areas closer to town are being cut out quite quickly. Although there is a good, long trail through decent forest on the Borba side of the river which is worth a day or more, the area across the Mapia is certainly the area to concentrate one's efforts. Broadly speaking all the forest birds found in forest fragments nearer town can probably be found across the river, although some may be easier in the former. Barroso and his young assistant know where the trails are, and we spent most of our time on two trails to the right (upstream) from the dock and one leading from a large clearing a short way downstream (to the left). Note that these are little more than hunter's tracks through the terra firme that rises abruptly out of the igapo (flooded forest) which flanks the river's banks, and all peter out after a kilometre or so, and one should be wary of the possibility of getting lost.
Natan took us to some other areas near town with similarly indistinct trails as well as to some more open scrubby areas which yielded a different set of rather less gripping birds. Accommodation is relatively comfortable, and at the Lana's Bela where we stayed, the owner faithfully produced very early breakfasts for our daily 4.30am departures. Supplies for lunch can be purchased at the supermarket underneath the hotel and there are a few, admittedly limited options to eat in the evening.
The star birds of the area are as follows: Buff-cheeked Tody-Tyrant (Hemitriccus senex), only recently rediscovered near Borba where the type specimen was taken. It is present in the very narrow band of igapo (flooded) forest along the banks of the Mapia and is reasonable numerous and thus not too difficult to locate when vocalising (a short trill quite typical of the genus Hemitriccus to which it is shortly to be reassigned). The recently described Bald Parrot (Pionopsitta aurantiocephala) occurs quite frequently around Borba and whilst we saw our pair over the Rio Mapia, some were seen and videoed allopreening shortly after our visit in what seemed to be a roost tree nearer town that Natan could doubtless show you. Pale-faced Antbird (Skutchia borbae); this is now the place to see this highly-coveted species - it is now very difficult at Amazonia NP due to the fact that the Capelinha trail is currently overgrown beyond the first couple of kilometres. It can be found in small numbers at antswarms on trails on the far side of the Mapia (we had ours on the second trail upstream that the boatman referred to as Sao Francisco), but is always outnumbered by another local speciality and the dominant species at these swarms, the striking and very restricted White-breasted Antbird (Rhegmatorina hoffmansi). The little-known Hoffman's Woodcreeper (Dendrocolaptes hoffmansi) can also be found with the above at times, whilst amongst the great range of other possibilities in the Borba area are Nocturnal Currasow (rare), Crimson-bellied Parakeet, Red-necked Aracari, Brown-breasted Barbet, Spotted Puffbird, Uniform Woodcreeper, Pearly Antshrike (not uncommon), Sclater's Antwren, Black-bellied Gnateater, Flame-crested (mainly in igapo) and Snow-capped Manakins (both quite common), Zimmer's and Snethlage's Tody-Tyrants, Black-necked Red-Cotinga, White-tailed Cotinga (quite easily seen), and Guianan Gnatcatcher plus lots of more widespread terra firme birds. We flew in on a Monday and out on the Friday, for a total of three full days plus a morning and an afternoon, but a full week or even more would not be wasted if you have enough time.
The entrance to this national park deep in the heart of Brazilian Amazonia lies about an hour and a half's drive from the town of Itaituba, close to the west bank of the Rio Tapajos. Whilst access is straightforward, you do need to make advance contact in order to get transport, guide (obligatory), permission to stay at the simple (and often very hot) cabins at Urua, the guard post overlooking the Tapajos, and to get someone to cook for you. All this can be arranged through the IBAMA guide Adelson, who always accompanies the very infrequent groups of birders which do visit the park. He and his charming family (his wife was an excellent cook) looked after us really well and added to what was a fascinating experience in a little-known area. Adelson can be contacted directly in writing Avenida Transamazonica, 1190, Bairro Jardim das Araras, CEP68180-230, Itaituba, Para, Brasil, and by phone on 93-518-3007 or 93-215-182449. Birding is restricted to the roadside with the exception of two trails, the Urua trail close to the camp which is a loop through different forest types, and the famous Capelinha (=little chapel) trail that used to lead through excellent forest for up to 30kms to a shrine in the middle of nowhere. This latter trail is currently overgrown with nasty spiny palms after a couple of kilometres, and unless the Brazilian government fork out funds for Adelson and his colleagues to cut this and possibly even some more trails in the park, the options for birders will remain limited. There is also a short trail through rather dry forest adjacent to Urua. Birding was quite slow when we were there as the area was quite dry and vocalisations were not at a premium. As a result we always took a siesta between about midday and 2.30pm, and birding was generally quite poor in the afternoon. To make matters worse, the Golden Parakeets (or guarouba) for which the park is famed, and which have been seen feeding in fruiting trees right around the guard post, were absent from that area at the time and made us work very hard indeed to catch up with them; more of which later. Nevertheless, we recorded a good range of species, and as reported by Minns, the fruiting of the morototo tree at this time of year certainly makes frugivorous birds easier to come by. Amongst the other specialities that one might reasonably expect to find at Amazonia NP in a visit of a few days are White-crested Guan, Red-throated Piping-Guan, Blue-cheeked Jacamar, Brown-breasted Barbet, Red-necked Aracari, Gould's Toucanet, Harlequin and Banded Antbirds, Ihering's Antwren, Natterer's Slaty-Antshrike (drier habitat around the guard post), Glossy (staked out close to the Rio Tapajos at Bubure) and Saturnine Antshrikes and Snow-capped Manakin, whilst other rare or localised species that have been recorded in the past, including Dark-winged Trumpeter, Vulturine Parrot, Fiery-tailed Awlbill and Rufous-necked Puffbird require considerable luck and although all birders go there harbouring hopes of seeing Pale-faced Antbird, I would say that it is currently extremely unlikely to be seen in the area and those in search of this near-mythical species need to go to Borba.
This rather large town near the mouth of the Tapajos river where it flows into the mighty Amazon was very much a stopover for us and although some good birding habitat can probably be found with a little exploration and the input of local knowledge, we had virtually no time to find either the forest or the birds. The Tapajos National Forest to the south of the city has records of interesting species such as Opal-crowned Manakin and Bare-eyed Antbird amongst others, but the former occurs at Carajas and the latter is commonly seen at antswarms at Rio Cristalino to the south. If one does find oneself in the area with a few days to kill, probably the best course of action would be to try and arrange for a boat trip to look for Scaled Spinetail and Varzea Piculet (to the west near Obidos), although neither would be easy, or to the opposite bank of the Amazon where drier habitat around the town of Alenquer holds the striking Sun Parakeet.
Carajas is another fantastic site that is surely destined to become a popular destination amongst world birders. It is a remarkable area in many ways, not least because in order to access the many, many kilometres of untouched forest of varying elevations and types, one must drive across one of the world's most renowned open cast mines. The mine itself has brought a high standard of living to those in positions of responsibility within the Companhia do Vale do Rio Doce that owns it, and as a result, driving through the Nucleo Urbano one is reminded of small town USA, with clean, symmetrical streets, a shopping mall with restaurants, small parks and childrens' play areas, and two very comfortable hotels. We stayed at the cheaper of the two, the Jatoba Park, although the Cedro is a nice alternative. Cars can be hired from the Localiza office at the airport some 10kms from the Nucleo Urbano and are a must to get around so it is worth booking this in advance. One also needs an IBAMA permit to enter the forest, which can be obtained at the nearby town of Parauapebas, a further 15kms or so from the airport. In theory one needs to have a park guard with you at all times, although Dave Willis and Chris Jones, who had not pre-booked anything, were mysteriously allowed to enter the mine area and the forest beyond without it throughout the week they spent there.
Birding possibilities are endless, and there are many roads and areas that have never been birded, any of which could turn up great surprises. The list of birds recorded by Andy and Kevin Zimmer on their recce earlier in the year was outstanding, but there are doubtless other discoveries still to be made. We spent most of our time birding the Aguas Claras road which is well-known to the IBAMA guides. This road begins at a large clearing and climbs steeply up an escarpment and into an area of dry ridge top forest on the other side of the pass. Along the lower part of this road is an obvious turn off to the left just a few hundred metres from the clearing. This track crosses a river on a wooden bridge before leading through forest sometimes dominated by bamboo to a small camp. We christened this the bridge trail and it was along here that we found a good proportion of our best birds. Other areas to work are the Rio Parauapebas track and trails beyond the airport just before the rather more insalubrious town of the same name, a track near the airport itself, and, within the reserve, the road towards the mine at Salobo which crosses a large area of 'kanga', cerrado-like grassland habitat with few birds and then descends a nice forested escarpment. Below here it enters a different area of forest, which didn't look as good as the Aguas Claras road, although we never really birded here at the right time of day, and as at Amazonia NP, we found birding tough in the afternoons.
Birding possibilities are huge, with the marked variation in elevation and soil type creating a tremendous diversity of species. Foremost amongst the specialities are Black-chested Tyrant (to be looked for along the Rio Parauapebas and lower Aguas Claras road but elusive), Opal-crowned Manakin, Pearly Parakeet (seasonal, seemingly absent in August), White-tailed Cotinga, Black-bellied Gnateater (common and confiding on bridge trail), the pallida race of Chestnut-belted Gnateater which is likely to be split in the near future, Collared and Rufous-necked Puffbirds, Gould's Toucanet, Brigida's and Spot-throated (rare) Woodcreepers, Blackish Pewee (at the top of the Aguas Claras road), Brazilian Tinamou, Harpy Eagle, Dark-winged Trumpeter, Vulturine Parrot, Hyacinth Macaw, Silky-tailed Nightjar, White-naped Jay (dry forest beyond the pass at Aguas Claras), Chestnut-throated Spinetail (bridge trail), Black-and-white Tody-Tyrant (bridge trail) and Para Foliage-Gleaner. The lack of hunting in the area means that large game birds are still commonly seen, and these include both Razor-billed and Bare-faced Curassows and Rusty-margined Guan, whilst macaws, large raptors and other birds sensitive to disturbance also thrive. Adding these special birds to a wide range of Amazonian species and the fact that you can return to a pleasant hotel and enjoy the comforts of home at the end of the day makes Carajas a destination to which birders will soon flock and quickly wish to return.
Saturday 19th July
Having been dropped at the airport by Bruno on his way to Rio, I rendezvoused with Mike Catsis and, eventually, Heinz Remold, for the connection to Manaus from Sao Paulo. Upon arrival we were met by Margaret, the general interest tourist guide that Andy had arranged for us for that afternoon to help us with orientation around the city and get us back to our hotel in the evening. As often happens with trips, there were one or two glitches early on, the first of which being a breakdown in communication between Birding Brazil and ourselves regarding what we wanted to do that first afternoon. The plan was to bird the campina area at km 44 on the BR-174 north towards Presidente Figuereido before going to Ducke reserve to the east of town the next morning. By the time we had hired the car it was already nearly 2pm and far too hot for birding. However, it transpired that our permits for Ducke had been erroneously arranged for that afternoon, so instead of making swift progress out to the campina, we had to make a large detour to Ducke to speak to the friendly INPA staff there who happily changed the date for us, not before we had got stuck in the mud on the long entrance track. A number of wrong turns and raised eyebrows later, Margaret finally directed us to the right highway and once at the km 42 site we set about making the most of the short time we had available. By the time we reached the campina on the right side of the road, the sun was almost setting and activity was low, but we did hear one or two Saffron-crested Tyrant-Manakins, and were able to watch one in the subcanopy, and found a pair of Guianan Slaty-Antshrikes in the understorey. As darkness fell we beat a retreat to the Pousada Chez Les Rois in a quiet neighbourhood of the city and a tasty dinner nearby.
Sunday 20th July
We were up early for our morning visit to the Ducke Reserve, and before dawn found ourselves again stationary on the entrance track, this time behind a large van which had stopped to clear a fallen log from the path. It turned out to belong to a Toucan Tours trip with Ricardo Parrini with whom we would overlap on a number of occasions during the next week or so. Once at headquarters, we allowed the small group time to get ahead of us on the trail whilst we spent some time birding around the clearing. Within half an hour we had found a number of quite widespread Guianan shield species, including Black Nunbirds perched on the football pitch goalposts, Dusky Parrots overhead and Guianan Toucanets and Green Aracaris feeding quietly side by side in a fruiting Cecropia. Venturing into the forest we soon found a pair of responsive Black-headed Antbirds and a then a striking male White-fronted Manakin, one of the specialities of the area. This was to set the tone for a pretty successful morning, with interesting species seen including Black-bellied Cuckoo, a smashing male Pompadour Cotinga, Yellow-throated and Golden-collared Woodpeckers, White-eyed Tody-Tyrant (of the nominate zosterops race), an endearing Tiny Tyrant-Manakin, Golden-headed Manakin, the local Golden-sided Euphonia, Yellow-green Grosbeak and Yellow-backed Tanagers. Mixed flocks held canopy-dwelling Rufous-tailed Xenops, Spot-backed Antwren and Pink-throated Becard whilst Chestnut-rumped and Lineated Woodcreepers inspected tree trunks and Screaming Pihas sat stolidly in the mid-storey, calling as vociferously as ever. Thrush-like Antpitta and Thrush-like Schiffornis also called enthusiastically but remained out of sight.
Back at the clearing we watched a few Versicoloured Emeralds chasing each other at a flowering tree before we were on our way back towards the INPA campina site. Pulling in we encountered the Birdquest van parked along the track, and indeed bumped into the group as we made our way into the reserve as they were coming out. Luciano Naka, their leader, gave us an excellent tip-off about our main target species for the afternoon, the little-known Pelzeln's Tody-Tyrant that exists in the stunted, campina woodland in the back of the reserve. Apparently they shut up if you try playback and the trick is to listen for its call and bushwhack your way towards where it is coming from. In this way we were able to watch this furtive and rather unspectacular little bird as it trilled away in the sub-canopy. Bronzy Jacamar was also present in the area. Once we had fought our way back to the road having lost the trail on our return from seeing the Hemitriccus, we did some exploration on the track on the other side of the BR-174 where we had parked the car, and in one of the clearings at the end of the track were treated to stellar views of Paradise and Opal-rumped Tanagers and best of all the rare Plumbeous Euphonia, all below eye-level as they fed on fruiting low Melastome shrubs.
Monday 21st July
A brief lie-in this morning was enjoyed by all before we taxied to the airport for our Rico flight to Borba. In this area of the Amazon, these small planes act almost as taxi services between small outpost towns not served by road, and particularly when boarding in one of these outposts, the check-in and boarding process is little more complicated than a taxi. By 10 we had touched down in Borba where we were met by our local contact for the next few days, local taxi-driver Natan, who had looked after Andy Whittaker and others during the few times that ornithologists or birders had come to Borba. His clapped out old car, typical of the very few that existed at all in this sleepy jungle backwater, consistently threatened to fall apart completely (a screwdriver was needed to start it up for example) but its engine was in excellent condition and we all grew rather fond of it by the end of the few days.
After transferring to the adequate Lana's Bela hotel, where we were greeted by some fly-by Canary-winged Parakeets, Natan took us out to some trails through disturbed forest close to town where we picked up some interesting species in spite of the midday heat. Pied and White-necked Puffbirds sat up on exposed perches at the forest edge, and once under the canopy we found a couple of excellent feeding flocks containing such species as Bar-breasted Piculet, Scaly-breasted and Red-stained Woodpeckers, Red-billed Scythebill, Elegant Woodcreeper, Fasciated and Spot-winged Antshrikes, Dot-winged and Sclater's Antwrens, Whiskered Flycatcher, Red-headed Manakin, Greyish Mourner, the localised Guianan Gnatcatcher and Rufous-bellied Euphonia. Overhead an immature King Vulture sailed by, a Grey Hawk flew across the road in a cleared area, a host of swifts wheeled in the air and chattering flocks of Golden-winged Parakeets occasionally alighted in the treetops. Bird of the day was the male White-tailed Cotinga that appeared suddenly perched in the subcanopy. A slick, blackish version of Pompadour with a snowy-white tail, this species reaches the western extremity of its range in this area and is reasonably common in the area.
Moving on elsewhere to explore one or two other trails in the later afternoon, we added the tiny Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant, Spot-winged Antbird and Long-tailed Woodcreeper, the latter shortly before we located a hunting Bothrops (fer-de-lance) that slithered off the log which Heinz was about to sit on and gave good views as it moved slowly through the understorey parallel to the path.
Tuesday 22nd July
We were up at 4 to discover that the hotel owner had prepared us a lavish spread for breakfast, and having enjoyed this daily treat we were on the road by 4.30, heading for the Rio Mapia some 45 minutes from town. Shortly before reaching the end of the road we stopped to pick up Barroso and his young assistant, our boatmen for the next two days. We waited almost half an hour for the light to improve enough for viewing to become possible before being taken upstream in the motorised canoe to the start of a terra firme trail that rises steeply up from the igapo flooded forest that lines the banks of this tributary.
As in many terra firme areas, birding was slow at times, and many of the flocks appeared to contain the same small core of species but there was a definite emphasis on quality rather than quantity and there is great potential in this area for finding rare and sought-after species. Things started well with a male Flame-crested Manakin in a fruiting tree and a vocalising Zimmer's Tody-Tyrant located in the sub-canopy, although a single calling Black-necked Red-Cotinga remained tantalisingly out of sight. Blue-backed Manakins were also calling and although they too were quite elusive we did have views of one or two young males. The first trail petered out after a kilometre or so, so we returned to the boat to work another trail that the boatmen called Sao Francisco, a little further upstream. It was getting quite hot by now and activity was not very impressive, until we happened upon what was one of the highlights of the trip, a huge antswarm that we connected with about a kilometre along the trail. We first had a rather brief encounter with it, yielding poor views of the highly localised White-breasted Antbird, and a tantalising brush with Skutchia, the near-mythical Pale-faced Antbird, which called a couple of times and responded to playback but granted just the briefest of flashes as it circled us at some distance. We sat down to have some lunch thinking that the swarm had passed on, but soon enough it was back, and closer, and the characteristic snarling, churring contact calls of the antbirds led us into an excellent vantage point in the understorey, just out of reach of the ants. Soon we were enjoying excellent views of many White-breasted Antbirds, together with more widespread professional ant-followers, Black-spotted Bare-eye and Scale-backed Antbird, whilst the rare Hoffman's Woodcreeper also put in an appearance. And then suddenly a rather motionless rufous-brown shape materialised into a magnificent Pale-faced Antbird, perched defiantly in the centre of the swarm close to the ground, remaining for minutes on end in the same place and picking off hapless insects whilst we enjoyed marvellous, extended views of this coveted species.
The swarm finally moved on and we returned to the boat flushed with success. It was about 3.30pm by this point and having come across a Long-billed Woodcreeper whilst waiting for the boat, we decided to bird the edges for a while from the canoe, so we turned off the motor and floated serenely downstream, with the late afternoon sunshine providing excellent light conditions. This proved a good tactic and we were rewarded with brief but good views of a pair of the recently described Bald Parrot, a close relative of the Vulturine Parrot that has recently been found in the Borba area. This was a most unexpected surprise, as we had not expected to see this unusual and strikingly coloured species. Exploring a creek in the flooded igapo at the edge of the bank yielded Amazonian Antshrike, Silvered and Black-chinned Antbirds and a cooperative Spotted Puffbird, which we had dipped at the INPA campina, which rounded off an excellent day.
Wednesday 23rd July
Another early start had us at the Rio Mapia before dawn. Our main priority of the morning was to try to locate perhaps the Borba area's most celebrated inhabitant, the little-known Hemitriccus senex or Buff-cheeked Tody-Tyrant. We heard one or two individuals calling in the igapo forest along the banks although it required a little work to lure one vocal individual into the outer branches of a tree where we enjoyed good views of this species that has hardly been seen by any birders, but is quite common at this, the type locality.
Moving on, this time the boatman took us downstream to a longer trail starting at a large clearing where there was a small wooden house. The shrubby thickets in the clearing held vocal Moustached Wrens and a tall emergent with bare upper branches near the start of the trail had Scaled Pigeon and a female White-tailed Cotinga. Venturing into the forest, we added Great-billed Hermit, Pygmy Antwren and Golden-green Woodpecker, and heard Rusty-belted Tapaculo, but best birds of the morning were undoubtedly Snow-capped Manakin, of which we watched a lovely male at close range, and the local Pearly Antshrike, a pair of which appeared in a couple of mixed flocks.
Having visited another trail which petered out after a short space of time, we again spent time working the river in the afternoon, and another vigil at the tree in the clearing where we had started the day yielded a fine male Spangled Cotinga and a pair of White-browed Purpletufts.
Thursday 24th July
We jettisoned the boat today in favour of exploring a trail before the Rio Mapia on the left side where there are large poles sticking out of the ground to prevent vehicle access. It passed first through quite open country before entering interesting forest on two different tracks that fork, of which we took the left. Early on, before entering the forest itself we scoped a mixed party of Red-necked and Black-necked Aracaris, and at its edge we encountered a very responsive pair of Blackish Antbirds. Inside the forest new for the trip were Blue-crowned Trogon, Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Spot-backed and Black-faced Antbirds and Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, whilst particular interest was created by a Snethlage's Tody-Tyrant and particularly a Brown-chested Barbet that briefly accompanied a mixed flock also frequented by a pair of Ash-winged Antwrens. We ended up spending virtually the whole day along this one trail, without even exploring the right fork, and as with so many sites around Borba, the area certainly merits further investigation. A Sulphury Flycatcher in a small stand of Mauritia palms and a trip to the Mapia to photograph the senex habitat rounded off the day.
Friday 25th July
Our final morning, or few hours, at Borba were spent in quite disturbed habitat close to town which nevertheless yielded a few new species for the list, including White-fringed Antwren, Large Elaenia, Spotted and Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatchers, lekking White-bearded Manakins and the uncommon Cinereous Becard. All too soon we were saying goodbye to Natan and to Borba, a fascinating place where one could spend a week quite profitably. Back in the more oppressive humidity of Manaus, we picked up our hire car from Localiza and headed north towards Presidente Figuereido. An obligatory stop at the bridge at km 82 on the BR-174 (be sure not to park your car on the bridge itself) yielded a responsive Point-tailed Palmcreeper and a large circling flock of Red-bellied Macaws. We arrived at Iracema Falls hotel at about 5pm and after checking into our bungalow spent a few minutes admiring the White-necked Jacobins that were visiting the proliferation of flowering shrubs in the gardens, but before long the lure of a dip in the swimming pool proved too great to resist. Dinner was shared with Chris Jones, whom we had met in Venezuela a year ago, and Dave Willis, who were on their way to Borba the next day.
Saturday 26th July
A very early start this morning saw us on our way south again back towards Manaus for our visit to the INPA tower, situated some 15.5kms along a side road leading off the BR-174 at km50. Having recced the area the previous afternoon to ensure we knew where we were going, we reached the top of the huge structure well before it was light enough for us to see any birds. Early highlights included a small group of Red-billed Pied-Tanagers, whilst before long we had located a mixed flock which came by just below the top of the tower, and granted us excellent looks at Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, the local Olive-green Tyrannulet, and the rare and diminutive Dotted Tanager, all of which granted excellent views. Throughout the rest of the morning there was always plenty to look at, and times of occasionally limited activity were spent hungrily scanning the ocean of green around us for raptors and cotingas amongst others. Channel-billed and Red-billed Toucans were very common all around us, whilst three or more male Pompadour Cotingas put on a great show and a glistening White Hawk perched up nearby. Good views of a number of species of parrots were had throughout the morning, including Scarlet and Blue-and-yellow Macaws and Dusky, Caica and Red-fan Parrots, and a few Chapman's Swifts were found amongst the more common Band-rumped and Short-tailed. The flock returned a little later in the morning, and included some extra species we hadn't found previously, including Paradise Jacamar, Yellow-throated Woodpecker, lovely Spot-backed Antwrens, Grey and Forest Elaenias, White-lored and Slender-footed Tyrannulets, Sirystes, and the rare Glossy-backed Becard. However, despite much scanning and crossing fingers, the much hoped for Crimson Fruitcrow did not put in an appearance, and sightings are quite infrequent in the area from the tower, although one of the Birdquest groups lucked out with one shortly after our visit.
Once the heat of the day had settled in we reluctantly retreated to the relative cool of the understorey at the base of the tower, where we added some more species despite the late hour. We played hide and seek with a Wing-banded Wren that showed well briefly to one or two of us, watched a White-necked Thrush hopping on the forest floor, and then found a mixed flock which contained White-crowned Manakin, Grey Antbird and a Curve-billed Scythebill.
The weather closed in a bit as we made our way north again for an afternoon visit to the Lajes reserve just outside Presidente Figuereido, and our birding was rather hindered by a hefty downpour during the last few hours of daylight. Nevertheless, we managed to locate a number of the specialities of the campina and sandy-soil wooded habitat, including Rufous-crowned Elaenia, Green-tailed Goldenthroat and Red-shouldered Tanager. Venturing along the trail we found Grey-breasted Sabrewing and Rufous-throated Sapphire before being drenched and retreating to the clearing, where we found the often-elusive White-naped Seedeater that appeared after the rain had finally stopped.
Sunday 27th July
We decided to return to Lajes early the next morning to try or one or two other specialities that we had not connected with the previous day. Willis' Antbird cooperated nicely in a patch of vegetation at the left hand end of the wall that marks the reserve entrance, and in an adjacent tree a pair of Crimson Topazes showed briefly. Once on the trail again, we failed to set eyes on any of the intermittently vocal and extremely retiring Black Manakins that are clearly present in the area, although we did find a Fuscous Flycatcher of the duidae race in a flock in the taller forest, as well as a brief Ruby-topaz Hummingbird and a small flock containing a Short-billed Honeycreeper. Rain was to blight us again during the morning and we spent some time under cover back at the houses near the reserve entrance, where we bumped into fellow Brit David Thorns, whom I had remarkably had chance encounters with on trips to Costa Rica and Sabah in the nineties. The coincidence of a third meeting was almost too much to take for all present! A surprise Sunbittern along the river appeared while the rain fell, but the weather was still hindering us on and off so we returned to Iracema Falls late morning where a bit of birding along the tracks during the afternoon yielded Long-billed Gnatwren, Guianan Gnatcatcher and Tawny-crowned Greenlet. We spent some time watching a fruiting Cecropia behind our bungalow which gave us another opportunity to study a number of relatively little-known frugivores including Golden-sided Euphonia and Red-billed Pied and even Dotted Tanagers, and a walk down to the falls towards the end of the day gave us good views of an Ornate Hawk-Eagle.
Monday 28th July
Our final day at Iracema Falls was something of a disappointment once again and weather conspired against us, reducing activity significantly and, thus, our chances of finding some of the specialities. Mike and Heinz had brief views of a trio of Little Chachalacas at the edge of the clearing whilst I was looking elsewhere, but even more frustrating was the experience we had with a Guianan Red-Cotinga which David got onto by chance but which flitted like a phantom through the leaves for the next few minutes, calling occasionally, before finally showing as the briefest flash of red as it flew across the road and out of sight as the rain came down again. Shortly after lunch we decided to call it a day and headed south back to Manaus, stopping briefly in better weather at the km 50 road where the heavy rain had made negotiating the track impossible in our car. We duly got it cleaned at a garage and returned to the Pousada Chez Les Rois for our penultimate night in the city and an excellent dinner of fresh fish.
Tuesday 29th July
Another early start saw us down at the CEASA port in Manaus by 4.30am, where we were met by Roy and the crew of the Iguana, the rather small boat which was to be our home for the next three days and two nights. Roy was not a birder but he knew the areas well and was a very nice bloke, and he and all the others worked very hard to ensure that we enjoyed our time on board. Our first destination was Marchantaria Island, towards which we chugged our way as we ate breakfast, the first of many delicious and ample meals prepared by our cook. Arriving shortly after dawn, we first of all spent some time in a very open lake area with limited vegetation, but after seeing some Nacunda Nighthawks, a Cocoi Heron and several Large-billed Terns, we soon explained to Roy that it was the land birds we were more interested in and we moved on. Shortly after 6.30 we found ourselves in the motorised launch again in order to explore some of the low successional growth and young Cecropia woodland in search of the special birds of these islands. In truth, Marchantaria was very little like we had expected. River levels were high and it seemed a far more complex area than the simple cane at one end and tall woodland at the other than we had anticipated. Indeed, on our first trip in the launch it seemed difficult to believe that we were on an island, but the arrival of some of the island specialists allayed our fears and we just set about exploring what this ever-changing environment had to offer.
Birds were everywhere and the most conspicuous group early on were the parrots, as they made their way noisily from roost sites to feeding areas. Festive and Short-tailed Parrots, both whitewater river specialists, were common, and White-eyed and Tui Parakeets were also numerous. Further colour was added by Red-breasted, Oriole and Yellow-hooded Blackbirds which appeared in flocks from time to time. Of the river island specialists, Lesser Horneros strutted about and called regularly, a Black-and-white Antbird was appreciated by all, and a Bicoloured Conebill perched in a small Cecropia. Such was the state of the river levels that finding anywhere to land was tough, but we did manage it in one area after following a channel up into the island, where we found Lined Seedeater, Orange-fronted Yellow-finch, Yellow-chinned and Pale-breasted Spinetails, a Chestnut-capped Puffbird and some Hooded and Orange-headed Tanagers amongst some more widespread herons, vultures and open country and marshland tyrannids. Unfortunately rain yet again fell and when the motor of our launch packed in on the way back to the shelter of the boat morale began to sink. However, it eased off a bit over the next couple of hours, and some productive birding was done from the top deck of the Iguana, even in drizzle. Brazilian Ducks dabbled in the shallows, Dark-breasted Spinetails lurked in low vegetation and River Tyrannulets flitted in the willow bushes. Birding in this area is wholly dictated by river levels and as a result it is a question of getting into different habitats. It is often said that spinetails are a feature of birding Marchantaria, and during the day we added White-bellied, Plain-crowned and a probable Parker's in a range of vegetation types. Other species of note that we found in the morning and early afternoon were the imposing Horned Screamer, a roosting Ladder-tailed Nightjar, Little and Spot-breasted Woodpeckers, Little Cuckoo, Southern Yellowthroat and the localised Riverside Tyrant. Later in the afternoon we tried a more forested creek where we rewarded with good views of a responsive Zimmer's Woodcreeper, one of the specialities of the area, before we started the long trip towards the Rio Negro where we eventually moored for the night at the edge of a remote island in the flooded forest of the Anavilanhas archipelago.
Wednesday 30th July
We awoke to find that a Birdquest group had spent the night at a similar location to ourselves and in fact we both headed to the same creek first thing to look for the handful of blackwater specialities that are typical of this unique habitat. Leaden Antwrens were quite numerous, as were Black-crested Antshrikes and Ash-breasted and Black-chinned Antbirds, and we also found such interesting species as Streak-throated Hermit, Green-tailed Jacamar, Speckled Spinetail, Striped Woodcreeper, a female Amazonian Black-Tyrant, Cinnamon Attila and Buff-breasted Wren. A little more exploration of a side arm of this pretty little creek saw us add Blackish-grey Antshrike, Snethlage's Tody-Tyrant (here of a race likely to be split from the one we saw at Borba), an Euler's Flycatcher attending a nest, Amazonian Inezia and the often overlooked Varzea Schiffornis. However, it took a little more work along the edge of the main river before we located a calling Klage's Antwren, which gave good views to all.
Much of the late morning and early afternoon were spent relaxing on board the Iguana, which of course included enjoying another vast lunch, as we made our way through this fascinating wilderness to the west bank of the Rio Negro and the tributary called Igarape-Acu. Here a small creek provided our focus for the last few hours of daylight, and interest was maintained by Chestnut-eared Aracaris, Great Jacamar, Chestnut Woodpecker, Three-striped Flycatcher and a male Yellow-crested Manakin, but despite considerable effort and much trawling, our main quarry, the localised Cherrie's Antwren, remained elusive. The day ended with views of a number of Band-tailed Nighthawks flitting around the boat as we headed down towards the Solimoes for a last crack at Marchantaria the next day.
Thursday 31st July
There were still a number of targets that we had not yet caught up with at Marchantaria, and some new areas of focus yielded a few of the species that we were looking for. A patch of small Cecropias adjacent to some younger, lower vegetation revealed our only Brownish Elaenia, an Olive-spotted Hummingbird, another race of Fuscous Flycatcher unique to these river islands, a pair of White-throated Kingbirds and, finally, two Red-and-white Spinetails, whilst a Sungrebe was also found in a small area of water choked with vegetation. We also found a number of species we had seen on our first day in the area. Much of the rest of our time was devoted to trying to find some terra firme that might give us a shot at the rare Scaled Spinetail, although this was to elude us, as it did many other birders around that time. We spent some time exploring some quiet creeks in the launch of one or two more forested islands nearer Manaus in the afternoon, where we found Green Ibis, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Hoatzin, Dark-billed Cuckoo and an American Pygmy-Kingfisher. Our time on the Amazon was brought to an end with the trip back to rendezvous with the Iguana, complete with a wonderful picture-book sunset, and a final dinner on board as a large flock of Band-tailed Nighthawks hunted around us. Once back at the port at the luxurious and newly-renovated Hotel Tropical, we taxied to our pousada for a final night in Manaus and packed in anticipation of our flight to Itaituba in the morning.
Friday 1st August
We arrived in Itaituba to find an entourage of people waiting for us at the small airport - in addition to Adelson, our IBAMA guide, there was his wife Angelica who was going to do the cooking, their three children, the youngest of whom Samuel was clutching a tiny kitten, and a young English-speaking guide Rafael. Once we had impossibly squeezed everyone plus five days of food and water into the 4x4 pickup truck it took us a good hour and a half to reach Amazonia NP, and the rather basic guard post accommodation at Urua. Afternoons are hot here and although a brief stroll yielded a singing Natterer's Slaty-Antshrike in the dry woodland adjacent to the HQ, we rested for a couple of hours after lunch before heading out in the truck to the head of the nearby Urua trail. Birding was slow to say the least, as it was throughout the afternoons, here and at Carajas, and only Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Plain Xenops and a most unexpected but very welcome Cinnamon-crested Spadebill appeared during our brief foray down the trail. Returning to the road to see if we could pick up any over-flying parrots or other species did not prove much more profitable and apart from large numbers of Orange-winged Parrots and several toucan species we had already seen repeatedly throughout the trip, the only record of real note was Mike's brief look at a White-crested Guan in trees around the marshy area two kilometres north of the guard post back towards Itaituba.
Saturday 2nd August
We began the day working the road for the first couple of hours about half way to the Capelinha trail which lies some 16kms from Urua, and were soon watching a couple of Semicollared Nighthawks in the half-light. At this time of year the morototo trees are fruiting and this attracted a wide range frugivorous species. Two of our targets fell quite early, as we enjoyed lovely views of Red-throated Piping-Guan in a roadside tree and gain had rather fleeting views, for all this time, of White-crested Guan. Snow-capped and Red-headed Manakins visited the morototos, and a Brown-chested Barbet was scoped a little further on for excellent views. Lettered, Red-necked and Black-necked Aracaris all also showed well, Painted Parakeets were much in evidence and we encountered our first Amazonian Oropendolas and Epaulet Orioles of the trip.
Once inside the forest of the Capelinha trail, things inevitably slowed a little as the heat of the day increased, but there were some new birds for the trip to be had in the form of two Ferruginous-backed Antbirds, small flocks containing Ornate and White-flanked Antwrens and Plain-winged and Spot-winged Antshrikes and a trio of woodcreepers of debatable taxonomic position - the concolor form of Amazonian Barred Woodcreeper, sometimes split as Concolour Woodcreeper, the eytoni race of Buff-throated Woodcreeper, formerly split as Dusky-billed Woodcreeper but now recognised by Clements as Lafresnaye's Woodcreeper, and finally a genuine Spix's Woodcreeper of the nominate race, recently split by Clements from the Elegant Woodcreeper from western Amazonia. The first of these was adjacent to a small antswarm that we encountered, where despite a patient vigil the only ant follower we could rustle up was Black-spotted Bare-eye. The trail was difficult to follow at times and Adelson had to make frequent use of his machete. Even then, it petered out in an area of impassable spiny palms after less than two kilometres, so we turned back and made our way back towards Urua. On the way we made a brief stop along the banks of the Tapajos at Bubure, where we quickly located a trio of new antbirds, including the endemic Glossy Antshrike, the water-loving Band-tailed Antbird and Amazonian Streaked Antwren, whilst a Green-tailed Jacamar showed well nearby.
The afternoon was devoted to working the road again from Urua to the open area with marsh 2kms to the north, although with the exception of a Great Antshrike and an unidentified furnariid we added little more than other species that we had seen in the area in the last couple of days.
Sunday 3rd August
We began this morning at another relatively open area about 2kms to the south of Urua, where David Thorns had seen Vulturine Parrot a couple of weeks previously, but with visibility seriously reduced by fog the few birds that did fly over were just faint shadows. We therefore decided to try the Urua trail again, this time entering from the end further away from Urua which passes through a flat area with quite an open understorey in the first few hundred metres. In this area we called in a delightful Banded Antbird which approached us quietly before settling in one spot on the ground about 5 metres away from where we enjoyed extended views of this great little bird. The trail drops very steeply from here down onto a more swampy area, which was pretty dry during our visit, but was quite productive on this occasion. Mixed flocks gave us Saturnine Antshrike, White-eyed and Ihering's Antbirds, Chestnut-winged Foliage-Gleaner and a female Flame-crested Manakin whilst a Blue-cheeked Jacamar perched in the midstorey was much admired. In the afternoon we revisited the roadside area we had birded during the early hours, which gave us more views of Brown-chested Barbets, plus Great Black Hawk, Violaceous Trogon, Purple-throated Euphonia, Masked Tanager and a vocal and cooperative group of the uncommon Dusky-chested Flycatcher.
Monday 4th August
We decided on an early walk along the Capelinha trail this morning, in search of one of our remaining targets, the very range-restricted Harlequin Antbird. We figured that given that we had had our one antswarm on this trail that it would be the best bet for success. We were also rather worryingly missing Golden Parakeet, another wonderful speciality of the park which is often seen flying past the Urua guard post in the morning, and whom the Toucan Tours group had seen perched on the trail leading down to a beach from the cabins. Our strategy of heading straight into the forest before working the road proved of doubtful success when Adelson heard a flock of Guarouba, as this spectacular psittacid is known to the locals, flying overhead when we were under the dense canopy and thus out of sight. Another small antswarm was discovered, again containing only Black-spotted Bare-eyes, and we returned to Urua for lunch rather deflated.
And so it was on to the Urua trail again at about 3pm, where a slightly different mixed flock on the early part of the trail gave us our only Slender-billed Xenops of the trip, along with Ash-winged Antwren and Buff-cheeked Greenlet, whilst a Plain-throated Antwren foraged nearby. A little further on we heard the characteristic noises of an antswarm close to the trail, and in response to tape, two or three Harlequin Antbirds gave us the run around for a few minutes before one finally sat still for quite some time as we admired its remarkable yellowish eye skin staring out at us from the dark understorey, complete with grey and rufous pattern on the head and foreparts - a stunning species and one we were mighty relieved to have caught up with.
Tuesday 5th August
Our last day in Amazonia NP and last chance saloon for the Guarouba. After our frustrating near miss yesterday we decided to walk the road around the Capelinha trail and back for a couple of kilometres towards Urua, in the hope that the bird might fly over again, but the luck seemed very much against us and there was no sign of them at all. Only a vocal but uninspiring Grey-chested Greenlet raised any excitement, although certain interest was maintained by a Needle-billed Hermit and an intriguingly plumaged Yellow-bellied Seedeater. The mood at lunch was distinctly sombre, with the crew back at camp again reporting that the Guaroubas had not appeared there that morning either. We badly needed a plan and a change of luck, and we decided that perhaps the best course of action left to us in the three hours or so of daylight that remained was to visit a totally new area. So, we opted to try further into the park, and travelled some 20kms beyond the Capelinha trail head, with Adelson and I standing somewhat precariously at the back of the truck looking and listening out for any signs of the bird we were after. Despite views of some of the commoner parrot species and more looks at Red-throated Piping-Guans things were not going well, and at about 4.30pm we decided to turn back and work our way back towards Urua. Suddenly, about 5 kilometres back along the road, Adelson heard the soft, quite un-parrot-like calls of the Guarouba and banged on the roof for the driver to stop. Once we were all out of the truck, the birds called again and sounded quite far away. We crept nervously along the road, hearts beating, with our attention briefly diverted to excellent looks, at last, at White-crested Guan. Another rather faint call from a Guarouba was instantly superseded by one that sounded very close, and suddenly there they were, what first appeared to be two or three Golden Parakeets feeding quietly in the crown of a tree, their golden plumage and shining green wings perfectly illuminated in the late afternoon sunshine. After scope views were had and unbelieving looks had been exchanged, a total of seven birds flew out of the tree and away into the distance, leaving us almost speechless, and completely blasé about the male White-tailed Cotinga we found shortly afterwards. We returned to the guard post in a significantly better mood than when we had left it, and the final dinner became something of a celebration.
Wednesday 6th August
No time for any birding this morning, we were on our way back to Itaituba, where after fond farewells to Adelson and his charming family we departed for a 9:30 flight to Santarem where we were due to stay the night. We were met at the airport by Paulo, who was to be our local contact for the afternoon. We had a few jons to do around town, but were soon heading south in rather oppressive heat towards what we hoped would be the Tapajos National Forest. As it was, an IBAMA strike had left access to this area impossible, and Paulo led us along a sandy track close to the Tapajos river, which flows into the Amazon at Santarem, on our way to what we hoped would be a nice area of forest around a local community. However, our car got stuck in the sand and it took much sweat and digging, as well as the obligatory local assistance to shift it out. We decided at that point to turn back and try another area of more disturbed habitat closer to town, where few birds of note were seen in the small fragments of secondary forest, although a few Blue-chinned Sapphires were admired. Returning to the large and rather bleak Amazon Park Hotel we relaxed for a while before going with Paulo to an excellent local fish restaurant where we enjoyed a few cool caipirinhas.
Thursday 7th August
An early start this morning saw us catch a 7:00am flight to Belem, home to quite one of the most modern and impressive airports I have ever seen in the tropics, although one or two occasional power cuts reminded us that it wasn't necessarily all that it seemed. Our two or three hours there were enlivened by bumping into Chris Jones and Dave Willis again, who were also on their way to Carajas, and with whom we shared experiences of Borba, where they had seen Uniform Woodcreeper, Black-bellied Gnateater and a hunter with a dead Nocturnal Curassow in addition to gaining remarkable video footage of a pair of Bald Parrots allopreening. Dave showed us the video in which it appeared that the birds are plucking feathers out of each others' heads, as Dave said 'to keep themselves bald'!
The descent into Carajas was remarkable, with large tracts of undisturbed forest with huge flowering emergents giving splashes of colour to the green carpet, broken by huge scars of open mines. We picked up our car at the airport and continued along 10kms of immaculately paved road to the Nucleo Urbano, a remarkably clean and neatly set out town housing the directors of the mining company and their families. We checked into the pleasant Hotel Jatoba Park and waited for our IBAMA guide, apparently a must on the other side of the mine in the forest reserve proper. When he failed to appear, it transpired that the guy that Andy Whittaker had arranged for us to have had recently contracted malaria, but before heading out we had managed to arrange for someone else to come and meet us early the following morning for our birding. We concentrated our efforts in the afternoon on a small track near the airport where we found some reasonable activity, with highlights including a pair of Rusty-margined Guans, White-backed Fire-eye, Slate-coloured Grosbeak and a Sharpbill.
Friday 8th August
We opted to concentrate our efforts this morning on the Rio Parauaupebas trail close to the town of the same name which houses most of the mine workers, some 30kms from the Nucleo Urbano. Once we had picked up our guide, we made our way down a hillside to the wide track, where Dave and Chris had also decided to make their first port of call. It was a reasonably productive morning, which began with excellent views of a pair of long-awaited Ringed Woodpeckers, and continued with a Para Foliage-Gleaner (split from Olive-backed), a White-bellied Tody-Tyrant, and another Cinnamon Attila and Grey-chested Greenlet, although a flock of Pyrrhuras that alighted in a tree were Painted Parakeets rather than the hoped-for Pearly, a bird we were never to see with certainty throughout our time at Carajas, despite Andy Whittaker having found them to be quite common in February.
In the afternoon we made our first visit to the forest reserve proper on the far side of the mine. Having driven across the vast dusty break in the forest, we were soon heading down towards the Aguas Claras road where we to spend much of our time over the next few days, as recommended by Andy Whittaker. A first foray along a track to the left some 200 metres after the start of this road, which we named the bridge trail because it crosses a river at its start, gave us wonderful views of a Collared Puffbird perched right above my head. A little later, our drive to the top of this road gave us prolonged looks at the localised Blackish Pewee right at the pass, where it was clearly holding territory and was seen on a number of occasions over the next few days. On our way back to the hotel, we first happened across a pair of Razor-billed Curassows as they calmly crossed the road in front of us, and then remarkably located a male Bare-faced Curassow adjacent to the paved road shortly afterwards - thus emphasising the unspoilt nature of this marvellous wilderness.
Saturday 9th August
We opted for a return to the bridge trail this morning as it went through some bamboo and viney habitat where we thought perhaps Black-chested Tyrant might occur. Although this mythical species did not appear, the next few hours produced a number of excellent birds and proved to be one of the most memorable mornings of the trip. The first highlight was a pair of the stunning Black-bellied Gnateater, which was to prove really quite common along this 2km track, and we admired several of these beautiful birds at close range over the next few hours. Whilst watching the first pair, we were distracted by the appearance of the rare Chestnut-throated Spinetail, which we also heard subsequently a couple of times during the morning, and a small mixed flock a little further on held a female Rose-breasted Chat. We finally connected with a number of calling Gould's Toucanets and enjoyed fantastic views of this gaudy species in display, whilst perhaps most appreciated were our two pairs of Black-and-white Tody-Tyrant, a rare and difficult bird which ranges principally at the base of the Andes from Colombia to northern Peru, but which also has a population here. Other species added to the list this morning were Red-necked Woodpecker, Band-tailed Manakin, Pectoral Sparrow and Blue-black Grosbeak, and we found another Blue-cheeked Jacamar. After such an exhilarating morning, the afternoon was always going to struggle to live up to it, and so it proved, as we had a relatively fruitless walk on the drier forest on the ridge beyond the pass at the top of the Aguas Claras road, where excellent views of White-browed Purpletufts did little to compensate our failure to catch up with the Dark-winged Trumpeters and Vulturine Parrot that Dave and Chris had seen during the morning.
Sunday 10th August
We returned to the lower Aguas Claras road this morning, and this time worked the lower stretches of the main road rather than the bridge trail. A little trawling soon had us enjoying good looks at the pallida race of Chestnut-belted Gnateater, which along with the snethlagae race is likely to be split in the near future, and it is certainly a lot more drab than birds from further west in Amazonia. Exploring the lower slopes of the steep slope up towards the top of the hill, and the area around the (hidden) football pitch and small camp adjacent to this, the next few hours became a remarkable feast of woodcreepers. A flock near the base of the hill held the widespread Wedge-billed and Olivaceous Woodcreepers, and the rare and little-known Brigida's Woodcreeper with its stout red bill, whilst a vast antswarm that we happened upon along a small trail up from the football pitch gave us great views of Plain-brown, Amazonian Barred, Buff-throated (Lafresnaye's), Spix's and Black-banded Woodcreepers, in addition to upwards of 20 very excited White-backed Fire-eyes, a Royal Flycatcher and Cocoa Thrush. In another mixed flock close to this area, a lovely male Rose-breasted Chat appeared briefly, and nearby we found our only seen Black-tailed Trogon of the trip.
We opted for a change of scene in the afternoon, and backtracked to near the mine, taking an alternative road off to the right from the main road, signposted to Salobo. This road passes through two or three kilometres of 'kanga', a dry, brushy habitat dotted only with a few areas of bushes and not huge numbers of birds. We headed first back into the forest on the far side of this habitat, where the road drops down a scenic forested escarpment and into some slightly different forest to that along the Aguas Claras road. We explored a couple of tracks off to the left along here, but it was very hot and we added only Rufous-tailed Flatbill, Black-faced Antthrush and a McConnell's Flycatcher to the list. Back on the escarpment, our only Blue-crowned Motmot and some more Dusky-chested Flycatchers were rather scant reward for what looked like a potentially promising area. A final thrash around the kanga during the last couple of hours of daylight gave us Sooty-fronted Spinetail, a nice male Rufous-winged Antshrike, some migrant Lesser Elaenias, Black-faced Tanager and Straight-billed Woodcreeper, our ninth species of woodcreeper seen well during the day.
Monday 11th August
With quite a few specialities still to catch up with and time running out, we once more returned to the bridge trail to see if we could repeat the success of two days previously. After much sweating we finally caught up with a female Opal-crowned Manakin, and a surprise find was a handsome pair of uncommon White-throated Woodpeckers, but we could still not string any Pearly Parakeets and any hope we still harboured of finding Black-chested Tyrant was all but extinguished. Another afternoon on the Salobo road saw us drive further down to a river where one needs a ferry to cross, but we opted to turn around here, after adding Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and a final hour in the kanga and at the forest edge did not yield any further species of interest.
Tuesday 12th August
With an early afternoon flight out to Brasilia ahead of us, we had about four hours birding time remaining, and we chose to focus on the upper Aguas Claras road and the dry ridgetop forest beyond the pass. A nice flock at the pass gave us White-winged Shrike-Tanager and Guianan Gnatcatcher along with other more familiar species, whilst a Tataupa Tinamou showed well in the understorey in the dry forest further on. Repeated looks at White-tailed Cotinga males was very nice, but we never caught up with Purple-breasted, to Mike's disappointment in particular. Some raucous calls heralded the appearance of a small party of the striking White-naped Jay, a Brazilian endemic more typical of the dry caatinga habitat further to the northeast. Its presence in this area really underlines the diverse nature of these forests. Back at the hotel, we were quietly packing and preparing to head to the airport when Dave and Chris arrived back at the hotel with news that they had found a pair of Black-chested Tyrants along the Rio Parauapebas trail. With half an hour to get there, we would have a total of an hour to try to relocate the birds before having to go to catch our flight. After a very nervous and increasingly desperate hour, we finally had to admit defeat at 12.30 in the searing heat, and we boarded the plane to Brasilia once more in rather reflective mood. Once we had touched down in modern Brasilia, we picked up the hire car and made our way to Peter Kaestner's house. Peter, an American diplomat who has lived all over the world and has seen almost 8000 species worldwide, very kindly offered to let us stay with him in his current abode in Brasilia when our scheduled flight from Carajas on the 13th was put back a day, thus necessitating an overnight stay in the city. We celebrated our return to relative civilisation with pizza and birders' tales quite late into the evening.
Wednesday 13th August
The change in flight schedules had allowed us the opportunity to do some open country birding in and around Brasilia NP, and we used Peter's generous local knowledge to good effect. At dawn we found ourselves in an area of scrub behind Brasilia NP where Peter had found the rare Cinereous Warbling-Finch and Yellow-faced Parrot to be quite common in the past. We spent a puzzling two or three hours failing to find either of these birds, but we did locate a wide range of dry country species, including Peach-fronted Parakeet, Turquoise-fronted Parrot, White-vented Violetear, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Plain-crested Elaenia, Brown-crested and Bran-coloured Flycatchers, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, Sayaca Tanager, Black-throated Saltator, Plumbeous Seedeater, and a single Curl-crested Jay. Best two birds of the morning were a calling Collared Crescentchest that we tracked down on a brushy hillside for excellent views, and the unusual Yellow-billed Blue-Finch, a localised cerrado speciality.
Continuing to Brasilia NP proper, we were greeted by huge numbers of swimmers at the pool, and this increased human presence and the heat doubtless contributed to our failure to find one or two of the rarer specialities such as White-striped Warbler and Russet-mantled Foliage-Gleaner. However, we did find Flavescent and White-bellied Warblers, Masked Gnatcatcher, Black-capped Antwren and a super male Helmeted Manakin in the gallery forest along a nearby trail, before we were completely drained with exhaustion and returned to the swimming pool area for a drink. The afternoon was spent relaxing and packing at Peter's house and perusing his excellent library of bird books to try to solve one or two of the identification issues of the last few weeks, before our departure to the airport and our flight back to London via Sao Paulo.
In total over 500 species were seen on the trip. A full species listing with locations of sightings is available, should you wish to have a copy, by e-mailing me.