I had long wished to visit the Amazonian rain forest, and in 2008 my circumstances finally aligned to allow such an extended trip. I decided to participate in a guided group tour for the first time as I felt it was the way to ensure the best possible birding experience in a large, unfamiliar country where I would lack facility with either the language or the local geography. (As it turned out, my college Spanish made it possible to be understood for most tasks, even when I was speaking with locals who spoke only Portuguese - the languages are that similar.)
Therefore, I signed up with Field Guides Incorporated for their 2008 Caxiuana tour. Unfortunately, about four months before we were scheduled to begin the tour, the Brazilian government unexpectedly cut off all tourist access to the Caxiuana research facility. Field Guides Incorporated (hereinafter FGI) did a good job of arranging a replacement trip for the same dates, however, and we settled on a trip focusing on the Carajas reserve, which surrounds a massive iron mine.
A further travel snafu, unrelated to FGI’s activities, forced me to rearrange my outbound flights such that I would have about an eight-hour layover in Miami. Rather than stay and rot in the airport, I scheduled a pickup from a close friend who lives there. We planned to look for a certain southeastern specialty that had always eluded me, catch up, and have dinner together.
With regard to references, unfortunately there is no single work extant which includes the full avifauna of the Para region of Brazil. Instead I purchased “Birds of Northern South America” by Restall et al., which covered a good 85% of the species we were likely to see. It is an excellent if bulky resource with well-done plates. (I only purchased the volume with plates, and cannot speak to the quality of the companion volume of text.)
I also purchased Souza’s “All the Birds of Brazil,” which proved worse than useless. Its poor-quality drawings were actually misleading in many cases, exacerbating the difficulty of at least one identification.
In the following account I list the common names of birds followed by their scientific names in parentheses. Life birds are in all capitals. For the most part I will mention a bird only the first time in the trip it was seen, to avoid having to monotonously repeat such common sightings as Tropical kingbirds and Black vultures; if I do refer to a bird more than once, I will generally omit the scientific name in the second and succeeding appearances. Also, I have left out of this account a small number of birds that were seen by others in the group but not by me.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18: I rose at a rather unfriendly hour and caught a 6 a.m. flight to Washington, D.C., then flew from there to Miami, arriving around 11:30 a.m. My friend had apparently misunderstood our communications and did not arrive to pick me up until almost 1 p.m. We headed north from the airport to track down lunch in the Miami Beach area. I saw what I was pretty sure was the one Florida target bird as soon as we hit the exit ramp off the highway, but I did not ask my friend to slow down as I did not feel it would be a safe spot. As it turned out, it didn’t matter - while we were looking for a parking spot in Miami Beach I spotted another bird on a telephone wire and had Tony pull over almost directly beneath it. Sure enough, it was a GRAY KINGBIRD (Tyrannus dominicensis), with a second kingbird nearby, and they allowed me to study them for as long as I liked.
Other birds for the trip in Florida were House sparrow (Passer domesticus), Rock pigeon (Columba livia), Boat-tailed grackle (Quiscalus major), and European starling (Sturnus vulgaris). At the place we had lunch and during walks around Miami Beach, we also noted Band-tailed pigeon (Columba fasciata), White-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica), Monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus), and Laughing gulls (Larus atricilla).
After enjoying a day with my friend, I returned to the airport and continued on my way to Brazil, traveling through Manaus to Belem.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 19: Accommodations had been arranged in Belem by FGI at the Hotel Vila Rica. The hotel is not in the nicest neighborhood, but you would be hard-pressed to realize that from its spacious grounds. The accommodations were very nice and the grounds offered very good in-city birding opportunities. Strolling around by myself that first day I found FORK-TAILED PALM-SWIFT (Tachornis squamata), the common but dramatic-looking female BLACK-THROATED MANGO (Anthracothorax nigricollis) (I would later find a male in full adult plumage, a brilliant bird, on the hotel grounds), WHITE-WINGED PARAKEET (Brotogeris versicolurus), SOUTHERN LAPWING (Vanellus chilensis), and STRIATED HERON (Butorides striata). Looking out over the rear wall of the grounds in the direction of the river I picked out a SNAIL KITE (Rostrhamus sociabilis) making its morning commute. At first I misidentified it as a Red-throated caracara, but on later review I determined that the location and the field marks indicated the kite instead, which was actually pretty gratifying as the kite had long been a “wish list” bird (I had missed it on a trip to Florida earlier in the year).
Other birds noted from the hotel grounds were Tropical kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus), Great kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus), Black vulture (Coragyps atratus), Common ground-dove (Columbina passerina), Palm tanager (Thraupis palmarum), Southern house wren (Troglodytes aedon), a Yellow-headed caracara (Milvago chimachima) that seemed to be a resident in one of the hotel’s tall palm trees, a flycatcher that was either Social or Rusty-margined, SHINY COWBIRD (Molothrus bonariensis), Blue-gray tanager (Thraupis episcopus), and a squad of Smooth-billed anis (Crotophaga ani).
Having a day to myself before the rest of the group arrived that evening, I decided to head to the university area on the Amazon itself. There I saw both Great egrets (Ardea alba) and Snowy egrets (Egretta thula), the trip’s only COCOA THRUSH (Turdus fumigatus), Boat-billed flycatcher (Megarhynchus pitangua), and Gray-breasted martin (Progne chalybea).
Returning to the hotel, I noted a pair of prehistoric-looking GUIRA CUCKOOS (Guira guira) and a Lineated woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus) on the grounds. Looking out over the rear wall again I saw a large nighthawk that proved to be a NACUNDA NIGHTHAWK (Podager nacunda), a great find. Unfortunately it disappeared just minutes before the first member of the group to arrive joined me to scan the skies.
That night Bret Whitney, our excellent field guide, and several of the other tour participants arrived at the hotel. The remaining participants were unlucky enough to be arriving on the redeye from Manaus early the next morning.
I should pause here in the narrative to offer a few words about our guide. Bret’s knowledge of the Brazilian avifauna is encyclopedic and he is enthusiastic, patient, and generally an all-around good guy. Also, his story of how he broke into birding is the equivalent in oral tradition of a Norman Rockwell painting - be sure to ask him about it.
The other members of the tour were almost without exception more experienced and better birders than I, and I’ve been birding seriously for some fourteen years, so I felt I was in pretty impressive company.
SATURDAY THE 20TH: Take a bunch of birders who are all exhausted from travel, facing long days in front of them, and generally in desperate need of extra sleep, and put them in a tropical location, and you can bet your last dollar they’ll be up with the sun to track down the birds. On the hotel grounds we added a number of species, including SULPHURY FLYCATCHER (Tyrannopsis sulphurea), a smart-looking SPOTTED TODY-FLYCATCHER (Todirostrum maculatum), SHORT-TAILED SWIFT (Chaetura brachyura), PALE-BREASTED THRUSH (Turdus leucomelas), MOUSE-COLORED TYRANNULET (Phaeomyias murina), WHITE-LINED TANAGER (Tachyphonus rufus), BRAN-COLORED FLYCATCHER (Myiophobus fasciatus), Gray hawk, Blue-black grassquit (Volatinia jacarina), STRAIGHT-BILLED WOODCREEPER (Xiphorhynchus picus), CHESTNUT-BELLIED SEED-FINCH (Oryzoborus angolensis) (which Bret noted was getting very hard to find in the city areas), Tropical gnatcatcher (Polioptila plumbea), MASKED YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis aequinoctialis), Yellow-bellied elaenia (Elaenia flavogaster), Limpkin (Aramus guarauna), VARIEGATED FLYCATCHER (Empidonomus varius), ASHY-HEADED GREENLET (Hylophilus pectoralis), SILVER-BEAKED TANAGER (Ramphocelus carbo), Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola), and Variable or “Wing-barred” seedeater (Sporophila americana). Some folks spotted a Southern beardless-tyrannulet (Camptostoma obsoletum), but I was unable to get on it. Another bird seen on the hotel grounds was a Violaceous euphonia (Euphonia violacea) but I found it just as it dropped into foliage and I never relocated it for a better look, so I decided it was not sufficient for a life sighting.
That morning we flew from Belem to Maraba. I took some good-natured ribbing for the condition of my duffel bag, which had lost one handle and had a shoulder strap that was working its way loose at one end. It would not have been a problem to replace it but I was quite attached to it, as it had seen me through many years of tough traveling, and was furthermore infinitely extensible (when full, it would always accept one more item...fifteen times in a row).
At the Maraba airport, I spotted the first Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) of the trip. We then drove from Maraba to Carajas. On the way we saw - and got out to scope - several HORNED SCREAMERS (Anhima cornuta), which have the antediluvian characteristic of spurs protruding at the bends of their wings. Other birds spotted along the road were WATTLED JACANA (Jacana jacana), Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis), and SOUTHERN CARACARA (Caracara plancus). I noted a caiman in a pond as we passed by.
We reached Carajas too late to do any birding, and set up in the excellent Hotel Jatoba. This was the “nucleo,” not a legal town but actually a residential area owned and maintained by the mine company to house the company’s on-site administrative staff. It seemed very well-to-do by Brazilian standards, and the best thing I can compare it to is a Fifties U.S. middle-class suburb. The streets were clean and the houses were small, boxy, and generally uniform; the people were healthy, cleanly dressed, and appeared educated and to have a respectable amount of leisure time, none of which are things to be taken for granted in the U.S. or elsewhere.
We walked from the hotel to one of the main restaurants in the nucleo. Along the way we heard, but did not see, Barn owls (Tyto alba) in a particular yard, and this would become a regular occurrence on the nights we spent in the nucleo. Eventually one night we were able to tape in the adults, but they were seen only as shapes flying through our flashlight beams.
SUNDAY THE 21ST: We rose at about 4:30 a.m. and walked to the nucleo for an early light breakfast. At the cafe we spotted the trip’s first Rufous-collared sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis). Also noteworthy were the insects we came across at the cafe and the nearby freestanding bathrooms - the place was an entomologist’s dream. At one point we were quite fascinated by a rhinoceras beetle the size of my fist. The moths were a world unto themselves.
We drove out of the nucleo, seeing numbers of the RUFOUS-MARGINED GUANS (Penelope superciliaris) that have become familiar denizens of the town. Bret marveled at an ordinarily reclusive forest bird that had, for all intents and purposes, become the common squirrel of the Carajas nucleo. We also stopped just on the edge of town where a target bird had been a frequent visitor, and walked a track and trail. Right near a guard shack we saw a female BARE-FACED CURASSOW (Crax fasciolata) that had become accustomed to handouts of bread from the guards; I was able to view it from a distance of less than fifteen feet. Also spotted along the trail were PLUMBEOUS KITE (Ictinia plumbea), CLIFF FLYCATCHER (Hirundinea ferruginea) which we would later find roosting among the eaves of the Hotel Jatoba, LETTERED ARACARI (Peroglossus inscriptus), a definite RUSTY-MARGINED FLYCATCHER (Myiozetetes cayanensis), and BLACK-NECKED ARACARI (Pteroglossus aracari).
We continued past the mine workings (with views of enormous two-story dump trucks, possibly the largest wheeled vehicles on earth after the platform they use to move the space shuttles), and into the caanga, which is dry scrubby short-vegetation habitat with its own special avifauna. Our first sighting there was of a SCALED PIGEON (Patagioenas subvinacea). Somewhere White bellbirds were bonging loudly away, but they kept out of sight that day. (The bonging of the bellbird is a remarkable sound, which reminded me in quality of certain tones that are sounded regularly around the cooling towers of a local nuclear plant.) The caanga shortly served up more birds, including WHITE-EYED PARAKEET (Aratinga leucophthalmus), BLUE-HEADED PARROT (Pionus menstruus), LESSER ELAENIA (Elaenia chiriquensis). Bret tried to tape the Lesser elaenia back in so we could get a better look at it, and pointed out what he thought was the returning bird, but when we studied it we found white in its crest, marking it as the rarer WHITE-CRESTED ELAENIA (Elaenia albiceps). Eventually its Lesser cousin did make a repeat appearance as well. Other birds found here were BLACK-FACED TANAGER (Schistochlamys melanopis), PLAIN-CRESTED ELAENIA (Elaenia cristata), a very furtive PEARLY-VENTED TODY-TYRANT (Hemitriccus margaritaceiventer), Golden-winged parakeets (Brotogeris chrysopterus) that were too backlit to afford suitable “life” views, a calling but unseen Striped cuckoo (Tapera naevia), and CREAMY-BELLIED THRUSH (Turdus amaurochalinus).
We moved downhill into lusher non-caanga vegetation and found a possible Streaked flycatcher (Myiodynastes maculatus), PURPLE-THROATED EUPHONIA (Euphonia chlorotica), the first of many RED-AND-GREEN MACAWS (Ara chloropterus) which would prove the most commonly encountered of the macaw tribe, BAND-RUMPED SWIFT (Chaetura spinicaudus), a lovely BLUE DACNIS (Dacnis cayana), and PLANALTO TYRANNULET (Philomyias fasciatus). Heard-only birds included Cinereous tinamou (Cyrpturellus cinereus), White-tailed trogon, and Vulturine parrot (Pionopsitta vulturina). Other birds spotted here were JANDAYA PARAKEETS (Aratinga jandaya, considered by some a subspecies of Sun parakeet) that favored us by settling in a tree where they could be closely examined through the scope, WHITE-FRINGED ANTWREN (Formicivora grisea), VERSICOLORED EMERALD (Agyrtria versicolor), a persistently singing FLAVESCENT WARBLER (Basileuterus flaveolus), and an elusive SOOTY-FRONTED SPINETAIL (Synallaxis frontalis). The antwren and spinetail inaugurated a frustrating theme of my having extreme difficulty in spotting small birds in the understory, and I was indebted to Bret and the other tour participants in helping me get on many such birds.
We walked uphill a ways and added RUFOUS-WINGED ANTSHRIKE (Thamnophilus torquatus) and White-tailed hawk to our list. Also, at one point we were driving between locations and a Solitary sandpiper flew over a wet spot.
Back in the nucleo for lunch several of the group and I entertained ourselves by spotting birds in the canopy of a park across the road from our open-air restaurant. We heard the first of many Screaming pihas and saw a SLENDER-FOOTED TYRANNULET (Zimmerius gracilipes) which proved to be a hell of a bird to identify, and a YELLOW-CROWNED TYRANNULET (Tyrannulus elatus). Also spotted were Blue and white swallows (Notiochelidon cyanoleuca), a Black-crowned tityra (Tityra inquisitor), Common tody-flycatcher (Todirostrum cinereum), and a troop of Red-handed howler monkeys.
Later I decided to skip nap time at the hotel and wandered down the block to a remnant of forest. There I found the endemic CARAJAS WOODCREEPER (Xiphocolaptes carajaensis). At the time I did not know of the split and identified it as its “parent” species, Strong-billed woodcreeper, but when I mentioned it to Bret he explained that the local birds had recently been identified as a new taxon. We tried again for the endemic several times at the location over the next few days so others could see it, but it never turned up again. Fortunately I had been able to study it in good light from only a few feet away, so I had no doubts regarding the identification. I also noted YELLOW-BELLIED SEEDEATER (Sporophila nigricollis) across the road from the hotel, and some SANTAREM (“HELMAYR’S”) PARAKEETS (split from Painted parakeet and then lumped with Madeira parakeet as Pyrrhura amazonum, and recently redesignated as Santarem parakeet) flew overhead.
In the afternoon we traveled to a small lake in the reserve called Esteril do Sul. There we had BLACK CARACARA (Daptrius ater) flying overhead just as we got out of the van, Least grebe on the lake itself, WHITE-WINGED SWALLOW (Tachycineta albiventer), paired BLACK-CAPPED DONACOBIUS (Donacobius atricapilla) on the lakeshore, and a wonderful and accommodating CURVE-BILLED SCYTHEBILL (Campylorhamphus procurvoides) which brought the group to a halt as we studied the astonishing bill that gives the bird its name. Bret noted the bird was a member of a local population that might end up being split into their own species. When we continued we struggled with overhead birds in the canopy under milky light conditions, picking out DUSKY-BILLED WOODCREEPER (Xiphoryhunchus guttatoides), BAR-BREASTED PICULET (Picumnus aurifrons), a low WHITE-FRONTED NUNBIRD (Monasa morphoeus) on the trail ahead, a LITTLE CUCKOO (Piaya minuta) that was generally visible only when it darted across the path in response to a tape, flushing Giant cowbirds (Scaphidura oryzivora), and White-shouldered tanager (Tachyphonus luctuosus). Heard-only birds included Little tinamou (Crypturellus soui), Brazilian tinamou (Crypturellus strigulosus), Grey tinamou (Tinamus tao), White-throated tinamou (Tinamus guttatus), Gray antbird (Cercomacra cinerascens), Blackish antbird (Ceromacra nigrescens), Brown-crested flycatcher (Myiarchus tyrannulus), Black-bellied gnateater which Bart promised we would return for in the morning, and a probable Barred forest-falcon (Micrastur ruficollis).
MONDAY THE 22ND: We returned to Esteril do Sul and spent a long time walking a fairly short stretch of the trail along the forested edge of the lake, pulling out numerous understory and canopy species. Almost the first bird we saw was a WING-BARRED PIPRITES (Piprites chloris), which gave me fits because I was under the misimpression that it was a black-and-white bird, and though people were basically pointing directly at the bird I could not for the life of me pick it up, until finally I had one of those shift-of-perspective moments and realized I had been looking straight at the bird all along. Embarrassing, but sometimes these things happen. Other good birds were GOULD’S TOUCANET (Selenidera gouldii) spotted way the hell up in the trees by one of our eagle-eyed members, BLACK-FACED ANTBIRD (Myrmogorus myotherinus), GRAY-BREASTED SABREWING (Campylopterus largipennis), BLACKISH PEWEE (Contopus nigrescens) (Bret was dubious about the existing opinion that there is a relict population of Blackish pewees in this area, and believes that eventually these birds will be shown to be merely a dark race of Tropical pewee), a distant BAT FALCON (Falco rufigularis) viewed mostly in silhouette, the first of several soaring Swallow-tailed kites (Elanoides forficatus), GREY ANTWREN (Myrmotherula menetriesii), a rare ASH-THROATED CASIORNIS (Casiornis fusca) that Bret was excited to get us on, GREEN-BACKED BECARD (Pachyramphus viridis), RED-RUMPED CACIQUE (Cacicus haemorrhous), GUIRA TANAGER (Hermithraupis guira), FLAME-CRESTED TANAGER (Tachyphonus cristatus), a lovely ORNATE ANTWREN (Myrmotherula ornata), PYGMY ANTWREN (Myrmotherula brachyura), and CHESTNUT-CROWNED BECARD (Pachyramphus castaneus). On the way back out of the forest we had a visible STRIPED CUCKOO (Tapera naevia) sitting on a branch on the side of the trail. Unfortunately one of our number had an experience similar to mine with the piprites - I think she was looking for something much more distant and hidden in the brush, and she didn’t realize the bird was taking up most of her field of view and that it was in full sight, before it disappeared. We also found a SHORT-CRESTED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus ferox) in the trees at the narrow end of the lake. I have to say it was a good thing we had Bret with us on the various obscure flycatchers, because without familiarity with their vocalizations, even the ones with distinguishing marks would have presented immense identification problems.
Because the trip had been rebooked so late, we were unable to get a continuous stretch of days at the Hotel Jatoba, so we had to deal with the inconvenience of spending a few days at Jatoba, then several days in the town of Parauapebes (at the foot of the mountain, half an hour below Carajas), then return to Jatoba for the last couple of days. Thus, when we left Esteril do Sul, we headed down the mountain to Parauapebas, getting out just ahead of the one hundred buses that make the trip twice daily to bring in and return workers from the twon below. We stopped to bird a trail along the edge of the Parauapebas airport. New birds seen were PURPLE-THROATED FRUITCROW (Querula purpurata), BLACK-EARED FAIRY (Heliothryx aurita), FORK-TAILED WOODNYMPH (Thalurania furcata), a furtive SNETHLAGE’S TODY-TYRANT (Hemitriccus minor), and RUDDY-TAILED FLYCATCHER (Terenotriccus erythrurus).
We spent the last hour of light on a trail near the Rio Parauapebas, where we found TURQUOISE TANAGER (Tangara mexicana) and BLACK-FRONTED NUNBIRD (Monasa nigrifrons). Bret noted the trail was a productive location and we would return for a serious target bird.
Parauapebas was more the standard sort of Brazilian town. The hotel in Parauapebas was not great and it was unpleasantly close to a disco, so the noise the first night was extremely annoying. On the other hand, we ate dinner at a nice little restaurant just a couple of blocks from the hotel, where we sampled their sole dessert - green corn ice cream. It sounds horrendous, but Bret recommended it and several of the more adventurous of us gave it a try. I was the first to actually put spoon to ice cream, and the others watched expectantly as I sampled it. “The field guide lives!” I announced. I have to say it was delicious and we returned to that restaurant at least once more during the trip specifically to have more green corn ice cream.
TUESDAY THE 23RD: As Bret had indicated, we returned to the Ria Parauapebas trail and found several new species: CINNAMON ATTILA (Attila cinnamomeus) visible in the trees from our parking spot, CRIMSON-CRESTED WOODPECKER (Campephilus melanoleucos), BLACKISH ANTBIRD, MUSTACHED WREN (Thryothorus genibarbis), WHITE-BROWED ANTBIRD (Mymoborus leucophrys), and AMAZONIAN ANTSHRIKE (Thamnophilus amazonicus). At one point we tried for the target bird at a spot directly below the hanging nest of a Gray-crowned flycatcher, but although the nest owner entered and left the nest a couple of times while we were there, it never allowed a reasonable viewing.
One of the highlights of the tour came when, at the third or fourth likely-looking spot we tried, a male BLACK-CHESTED TYRANT (Taeniotriccus andrei) came in to the tape and hung around forever watching us from a number of perches within eight feet of us. Bret was able to videotape the bird at length. This bird is known in Brazil from only a few microhabitats in the north, and is a real crowd-pleaser with its smart black, fire-orange, and white plumage. It did not raise its crest while I was watching it so it might be confusing to someone relying solely on pictures in books for identification (the books always portray the crest raised, although that is probably a courtship display). The oddest thing about this rare sighting was that there was a suburb on the far side of the Ria Parauapebas, and while watching the tyrant we could hear children laughing and music from the suburb. After we finally took our leave of the bird - which actually followed us for a few steps - Bret informed us that it was a life bird for him!
On the way back out we had better looks at a Little cuckoo than our previous sighting, and at the parking spot I noted a FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER (Tyrannus savana) sitting in a distant tree and was able to get good scope looks. Another “wish list” bird covered.
We tried another trail in the area but after a few minutes decided it did not look promising for birds, so we returned to the Carajas plateau, past the now-familiar mine workings, and down a steep road to another trail. Here we found LONG-WINGED ANTWREN (Myrmotherula longipennis), Plain xenops (Xenops minutus), DUSKY-CAPPED GREENLET (Hylophilus hypoxanthus), CINEREOUS ANTSHRIKE (Thamnomanes caesius), Bay-headed tanager (Tangara gyrola), and another skulky but resplendent bird, a CHESTNUT-BELTED GNATEATER (Conopophaga aurita snethlageae) with its compact form and bright white eye-crests.
WEDNESDAY THE 24TH: We got an early start to run up to the Carajas plateau in order to hit a road on its far side for our morning birding. On the road leading from the Carajas nucleo to Salobo we found a splendid little RED-HEADED MANAKIN (Pipra rubrocapilla), several bonging WHITE BELLBIRDS (Procnias alba), PURPLE-BREASTED COTINGA (Cotinga cotinga) and the even rarer WHITE-TAILED COTINGA (Xipholena lamellipennis) in the same tree and indeed in the same scope field of view, YELLOW-RUMPED CACIQUE (Cacicus cela), GOLDEN-CROWNED WARBLER (Basileuteras culicivorus), RED-BILLED PIED TANAGER (Lamprospiza melanoleuca), SPOTTED TANAGER (Tangara punctata), Red-legged honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus), LESSER SWALLOW-TAILED SWIFT (Panyptila cayennensis), a NATTERER’S SLATY-ANTSHRIKE (Thamnophilus stictocephalus) that gave me some trouble, a well-viewed LONG-BILLED GNATWREN (Ramphocaenus melanurus) with its odd combination of short body and elongated bill, SHARPBILL (Oxyruncus cristatus), YELLOW-SHOULDERED GROSBEAK (Parkerthraustes humeralis), WHITE-WINGED SHRIKE-TANAGER (Lanio versicolor), RUFOUS-RUMPED FOLIAGE-GLEANER (Philydor erythrocercus), GREEN HONEYCREEPER (Chlorophanes spiza), FASCIATED ANTSHRIKE (Cymbilaimus lineatus), a large MAGPIE TANAGER (Cissops leverianus), LONG-TAILED TYRANT (Colonia colonus), RED-BILLED TOUCAN (Ramphastos tucanus), much-admired WHITE-BROWED PURPLETUFTS (Iodopleura isabellae), RED-STAINED WOODPECKER (Veniliornis affinis), DUSKY-CHESTED FLYCATCHER (Myiozetetes luteiventris), THRUSH-LIKE WREN (Campyloprhynchus turdinus), a soaring KING VULTURE (Sarcoramphus papa) (yet another “wish list” bird), CHESTNUT-VENTED CONEBILL (Conirostrum speciosum), SCALY-BREASTED WOODPECKER (Celeus grammicus), WHITE-THROATED WOODPECKER (Piculus leucolaemus), GRAY-CROWNED FLYCATCHER (Toimomyias poliocephalus), a calling but unseen Black hawk-eagle (Spizaetus tyrannus), WHITE-BACKED FIRE-EYE (Pyrigiena leuconota), a rare SLATE-COLORED GROSBEAK (Saltator grossus), PEARLY PARAKEET (Pyrrhura lepida), Dusky-capped flycatcher (Myiarchus tuberculifer), BAND-TAILED MANAKIN (Pipra fasciicauda), PECTORAL SPARROW (Arremon taciturnus), BLACK-TAILED TROGON (Trogon melanurus), STREAKED XENOPS (Xenops rutilans), and MASKED TANAGER (Tangara nigricincta).
We stopped for lunch at a nice spot with some work huts and a creek and found a cooperative LINEATED WOODCREEPER (Lepidocolaptes albolineatus). Returning to the road to Salobo, we spent some time luring an AMAZONIAN ANTPITTA (Hylopezus berlepschi) in to view.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped in the caanga and played tapes for another species. Soon a RUSSET-CROWNED CRAKE (Anurolimnas viridis) came out into nearly full view within twelve feet of us - a great sighting but I think some people at the unlucky end of the line may not have gotten satisfying looks.
THURSDAY THE 25TH: Things had opened up for us to return to the Hotel Jatoba and the Carajas nucleo a day early, and I gratefully packed up and left the hotel in Parauapebas behind. On our way to our first birding stop we were just at the boundary between the mine workings and the first shrubbery of the reserve when someone spotted a LITTLE CHACHALACA (Ortalis motmot) in a bush by the road. There proved to be a small family of the birds there.
Continuing on, we found an overlook that gave a great panoramic view of the canopy and opposite hillcrest. Here we picked up SWALLOW-WINGED PUFFBIRD (Chelidoptera tenebrosa), WHITE-VENTED EUPHONIA (Euphonia minuta), and RUFOUS-BELLIED EUPHONIA (Euphonia rufiventris). A distant perched raptor was seen mostly in silhouette, but its unmistakable profile marked it as a rare GRAY-BELLIED GOSHAWK (Accipiter poliogaster), which was further confirmed when it responded to Bret’s tape before soaring across and below the treeline.
While driving to our next location - the road where we had stopped for lunch the day before - a handful of GRAY-FRONTED DOVES (Leptotila rufaxilla) popped up and into the jungle.
Our reason for returning to the prior day’s lunch location was that it was close to an active nest of one of the tour’s premier target birds. We quickly found the nest and spent several minutes peering into the branches of the enormous tree that supported it. Eventually one of the other members of the group moved up the road and was able to get an angle on a HARPY EAGLE (Harpia harpyja) that still had some downy feathers. While we never saw an adult, we were able to study this bird minutely through the scope, even down to the scrollwork-like markings on its uppertail.
When we finally concluded our examination of the young eagle, we tried to tape in a calling Barred forest-falcon. It passed over the road a couple of times but too quickly for views of anything except a moving shape. Other birds on this stretch were the first well-viewed SCREAMING PIHAS (Lipaugus vociferans), PLAIN-WINGED ANTSHRIKE (Thamnophilus schistaceus), WHITE-EYED ANTWREN (Myrmotherula leucophthalma), SOUTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Steigidopteryx ruficollis), a dramatic GUIANAN RED COTINGA (Phoenicircus carnifex), a WHITE HAWK (Leucopternis albicollis) that happened to be peering down at us from a thick branch off to one side of the road, WEDGE-BILLED WOODCREEPER (Glyphorynchus spirurus), a snazzy BLACK-BELLIED GNATEATER (Conopophaga melanogaster) that was just as charismatic as its chestnut-belted cousin, RED-NECKED WOODPECKER (Campephilus rubricollis), and GRAY ANTBIRD (Cercomacra cinerascens).
Returning to the Carajas nucleo just ahead of a rainstorm, we stopped at the nucleo entrance to observe a GREEN OROPENDOLA (Psarocolius viridis) going in and out of its pendulous nest.
FRIDAY THE 26TH: This was the day we had slotted to visit new habitat along the Rio Itacacunas, well on the other side of the reserve from the nucleo. A mile or so short of the river itself we got held up in a line of vehicles going through a guard checkpoint, so we spent fifteen minutes or so birding in that vicinity. A RED-FAN PARROT (Deroptyus accipitrinus) obliged by passing over with its characteristic raptorial flight profile.
When we reached the river we set up scopes on the bridge and looked over the banks and nearby treetops. Here we found a number of good birds, including YELLOW-CROWNED PARROT (Amazona ochrocephala), WHITE-BANDED SWALLOW (Atticora fasciata), a SUNBITTERN (Eurypyga helias) that flew from bank to bank and displayed repeatedly for us, Neotropic cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus), FOREST ELAENIA (Myiopagis gaimardii), GREATER YELLOW-HEADED VULTURE (Cathartes melambrotus), a Green kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana) which - unlike my life bird - allowed itself to be studied, Rufous-tailed jacamar (Galbula ruficauda), GLOSSY ANTSHRIKE (Sakesphorus luctuosus), and ground-foraging DUSKY-BILLED PARROTLETS (Forpus modestus) which Bret said would likely eventually be split into a separate species. I heard macaws coming and got the group on a splendid BLUE-AND-YELLOW MACAW (Ara ararauna) passing by. Swallows around the bridge proved to include both BLACK-COLLARED SWALLOW (Atticora melanoleuca) and BROWN-CHESTED MARTIN (Progne tapera). Again, macaw noise drew my attention, and I alerted the others to approaching birds which turned out to be our major target for the area - the stunning HYACINTH MACAW (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus). We had distant but satisfying views of these through the scopes as they flew on past and disappeared over the jungle. Another popular find was a STRIOLATED PUFFBIRD (Nystalus striolatus) in a nearby tree. Not far from that was a small bird that was initially misidentified as a Pileated finch, but one of the group was on her toes and later pointed out that due to its mostly red plumage it must instead have been a RED-CRESTED FINCH (Coryphospingus cucullatus).
After we left the bridge we moved past the river to the “Pojuca” trail, where we found SHORT-TAILED PYGMY-TYRANT (Myiornis ecaudatus) giving unusual low and close views, CHANNEL-BILLED TOUCAN (Ramphastos vitellinus) at last, WHITE-LORED EUPHONIA (Euphonia chrysopasta), and CRESTED OROPENDOLA (Psarocolius decumanus).
At this point we set up on a wide track while Bret moved off into the forest to try to lure a Cinereous tinamou to come out into the open. In one of the most misconceived moments of my birding career, I decided to sit down on the track while the others remained standing. Thus, when the tinamou came out into the grass by the side of the track, of course just out of sight from where I was sitting, the rest of the group had wonderful views while I agonized with the decision whether to stand up and risk scaring the bird away. I decided it was my own fault and waited until everybody else had a good long look before standing up, but by that time the bird had already retreated into the dense brush and would not emerge again. It makes for an interesting story this way, but I wish I had a less interesting story involving more success in actually seeing the damn tinamou! Actual sightings of Cinereous tinamous are extremely uncommon, and I had blown an unprecedented opportunity.
After lunch we returned to the Carajas nucleo and visited its zoological park (which had been closed the previous afternoon). In addition to the zoo’s regular inhabitants, a UNIFORM WOODCREEPER (Hylexetastes uniformis, sometimes considered a subspecies of Red-billed woodcreeper) and Red-billed toucan were seen. We also heard, but did not see, Yellow-tufted woodpecker (Melanerpes cruentatus) and Scarlet-shouldered parrotlets (Touit huetii).
SATURDAY THE 27TH: We returned to the main road past the mine workings and scanned from a couple of overlooks. New birds seen were EPAULET ORIOLE (Icterus cayanensis), the only oriole of the trip, and SPANGLED COTINGA (Cotinga cayana). We were hoping to find another bird in this area, and one of the group members observed suddenly that it was right in front of us, sitting up in full view in an enormous spreading tree with bare branches. It was one of those situations where you would have noticed the bird immediately if you hadn’t been looking around with your binoculars. Anyway, the WHITE-CRESTED GUAN (Penelope pileata) put on quite a show for us, walking around on the tree limbs for a while before diving down into the forest. I thought here we also had good views of Violaceous euphonia, by which I might have added it to my life list, but my notes from this stop are not clear.
More birds seen at the overlooks: CREAM-COLORED WOODPECKER (Celeus flavus) and an uncommon GREY-CHESTED GREENLET (Hylophilus semicinereus). Doing a quick calculation, I announced to the group that the next bird that was a lifer for me would be my one thousandth life bird.
Moving on down the road we had a few birds in the trees along the road. The first of these was a Black-faced antbird. Because of the number of similar-looking and -sounding antbirds, antwrens, and antvireos, I thought this was a lifer, but later realized we had already seen it on the trip. I was grateful for the correction, because life bird number one thousand turned out to be a spectacularly beautiful and quintessentially tropical bird, a patient and resplendent BLUE-CHEEKED JACAMAR (Galbula cyanicollis)! Simply stunning. Bret noted the local birds might be determined a separate species, “Para jacamar.”
Having achieved that birding milestone, I was able to relax back into the pace of the trail. Another bird found in the underbrush was a very nice SPOT-BACKED ANTBIRD (Hylophylax naevius). We came into view of some RUDDY PIGEONS (Patagioenas subvinacea) which were uncharacteristically blase about our appearance and remained pecking in the road for a while before taking off. A MACCONNELL’S FLYCATCHER (Mionectes macconnelli) showed well for some people but eluded others.
Next we tried some trails off the road, and were skunked for the first of many times on taping in Scaly-breasted wren (Microcerculus marginatus). More cooperative were SCALE-BACKED ANTBIRD (Hylophylax poecilinotus), DWARF TYRANT-MANAKIN (Tyranneutes stolzmanni), and a heavily backlit but well-appreciated rare GUIANAN GNATCATCHER (Polioptila guianensis). A Golden-green woodpecker (Piculus chrysochloros) called but did not come into view. Frustratingly, I missed, yet again, the Para foliage-gleaners (Automolus paraensis) which seemed to be visible to everyone else but invisible to me. I believe it was on this trail that one of our party spotted a good-sized tortoise lumbering in the underbrush; after we checked it out it stubbornly headed right toward our line of observation, and we were obliged to move out of its way.
SUNDAY THE 28TH: We had to head back to Maraba to catch our flight back to Belem, but first we stopped at a trail near Parauapebas. It did not prove very productive, but we did catch a RIVER WARBLER (Phaeothlypis rivularis) walking in the grass along the path.
Back on the Maraba-Carajas Road, we stopped at a small wetland and found RED-BREASTED BLACKBIRDS (Sturnella militaris), Roadside hawk (Buteo magnirostris), and LESSER KISKADEE (Philhydor lictor). On the road again, I picked out a GREEN IBIS (Mesmbrinibis cayennensis) as we passed another pond, and noted an American kestrel (Falco sparverius) on a wire. A further stop at a marsh yielded BRAZILIAN TEAL (Amazonetta brasiliensis), Black-necked stilts (Himantopus mexicanus), WHITE-HEADED MARSH-TYRANT (Arundinicola leucocephala), and a nicely showing PALE-BREASTED SPINETAIL (Synallaxis albescens).
We reached the Hotel Vila Rica late and turned in.
MONDAY THE 29TH: An ORANGE-WINGED PARROT (Amazona amazonica) showed up in the morning and stopped briefly in a palm near the hotel.
Later in the morning we went to a local military base, COSANPA, and did some birdwatching from the road and from blinds overlooking a broad marsh. A Hook-billed kite (Chondrohierax uncinatus) was well-seen here, as were PLAIN-CROWNED SPINETAIL (Synallaxis gujanensis), WHITE-TAILED TROGON (Trogon viridis), GOLDEN-WINGED PARAKEETS (Brotogeris chrysopterus), WAVED WOODPECKER (Celeus undatus), GREY-HEADED KITE (Leptodon cayanensis), and BLUE-CHINNED SAPPHIRE (Chlorests notatus). An Amazonian violaceous trogon (Trogon violaceous) called but would not come in to the tape. An Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) was found resting on piles out across the water. Finally, we returned to the hotel, picked up our things, and headed for the airport.
The last bird I would see on the trip was viewed from the Belem airport as I waited for my flight. Sitting on a low fence bordering the airport grounds was a Guira cuckoo, ungainly and preposterous.
My return to the U.S. was mostly uneventful. Amusingly, and perhaps fittingly, the shoulder strap on The Infinitely Extensible finally gave up the ghost while I was waiting on line at Customs in Miami. It didn’t matter; it had seen me safely back to the U.S., and had earned a rest.
By a rough count, we had 315 species that were seen or heard by at least one member of the party. Of these, 206 were lifers for me, such that by the end fully 20% of my life list was comprised of birds first seen in Brazil - a testament to the incredible ornithological riches and diversity of this country.