Caseara and Araguacema on the right (Tocantins) bank of the Araguaia provide access not only to some of the Araguaia Valley specialities, most notably Crimson-fronted Cardinal Paoraria baeri, Bananal Antbird Cercomacra ferdinandi and Araguaia Spinetail Synallaxis simoni, but also a cross-section of Amazonian and Cerrado birds in close proximity to each other. The following is based on three visits to the area, in February 2001, September 2004 and January 2009.
Of the two, Caseara is better set up for birding visitors with more hotels (the best of which is probably the Pousada da Ilha) and restaurants, whereas Araguacema seems to be ‘dying on its feet’, with only one hotel open at the time of my recent visit. Apparently, the town is rather busier in the ‘high season’, July. A well-graded dirt road, passing primarily through cerrado but with some forest patches (with an interesting mix of species including the Brazilian endemic Scarlet-throated Tanager Compsothraupis loricata), connects the two settlements. The bridge over the rio Caiapó makes a good break in the journey, with Purple-throated Fruitcrow Querula purpurata, Bare-faced Curassow Crax fasciolata and Sungrebe Heliornis fulica amongst the possibilities here.
Those searching primarily for the Araguaia specialities will find the Bananal Antbird easy along the road between Caseara and the ferry to the other side of the river (Pará). There are also chances for the cardinal, as well as Chestnut-bellied Guan Penelope ochrogaster, Ringed Woodpecker Celeus torquatus, Amazonian Inezia Inezia subflava, Smoky-fronted Tody-Flycatcher Poecilotriccus fumifrons, Grey-chested Greenlet Hylophilus semicinereus, Spotted Puffbird Nystactes tamatia and Zimmer’s Tody-Tyrant Hemitriccus minimus along this road. At times this area can be very busy with seedeaters; there were many Lined Seedeaters Sporophila lineola during our January visit, as well as Great-billed Seed Finch S. maximiliani. However, the cardinal is probably better searched for along the river on the Pará bank, where you can also find the Araguaia Spinetail, although the latter is even more easily found by taking a boat to one of the islands (other species to look out for on the islands include Xenopsaris Xenopsaris albinucha, and Sand-coloured Nighthawk Chordeiles rupestris at dusk). Crimson-fronted Cardinal is also easily found at Araguacema, even in the town itself. Beware that at least some birds are apparently hybrids with Red-capped Cardinal Paoraria gularis, although I have never seen any pure examples of the latter in this region. Orinoco Goose Neochen jubata can be found along the river at Caesara, and should be present at Araguacema too (water levels were high, with few exposed sandbars, in January 2009).
The large area of cerrado beyond the ferry dock on the Pará side opposite Caseara holds some potential, with a good suite of species typical of the habitat all possible, despite this being far north. Particularly interesting are: Long-tailed Ground Dove Uropelia campestris, Checkered Woodpecker Picoides mixtus, Collared Crescentchest Melanopareia torquata, Capped Seedeater Sporophila bouvreuil and Coal-crested Finch Charitospiza eucosma, as well as Bare-necked Fruitcrow Gymnoderus foetidus, Blue-winged Primolius maracana and Golden-collared Macaws P. auricollis.
Another possibility at Caseara is to bird the relatively recently created Cantão State Park, well signed off the road into the town. A bird list for the area, prepared by Dante Buzzetti, is available, but the regular opening times will mean that you miss the best hours of the day, and advance notice of your visit is needed, although this can be organised in Caseara itself.
Once at Araguacema, the avifauna becomes even more Amazonian in flavour (Spotted Tody-Flycatcher Todirostrum maculatum was even present in the garden of our hotel), although most of the environs are, once again, cerrado. One interesting area to bird is the tall-forest fragments beside the road close to the small settlement of Senhor do Bonfim, where a good mix of cerrado and Amazonian birds are possible, including Brazilian Crypturellus strigulosus and Cinereous Tinamous C. cinereus, Hellmayr’s Parakeet Pyrrhura amazonum, Brown Jacamar Brachygalba lugubris, Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakin Neopelma pallescens and Blue-necked Tanager Tangara cyanicollis. Don’t ignore the Pará bank of the river, which demands more time than we could devote to it (just one extremely hot afternoon). Zigzag Heron Zebrilus undulatus was the best species we encountered here. The ferry crossing is not well signed, but lies at the south end of the town. Turn off left just beyond the garage at the very start of the town (before the roundabout with the turn to Senhor do Bonfim), and continue until the road becomes dirt (veering to the left); keep going until you reach the river.