August 4th - 25th 2002

Simon Woolley and Julia Casson

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See photo page here


  • Veterans as we were of the Palearctic, Nearctic and Indo- & Afrotropical zones, it was clearly time to make a foray into the neotropics, fabled destination for birders, and home to a greater avian diversity than anywhere else on earth. Simon had been to Brasil for one week (!) back in 1995, and had a Brasilian list of precisely 96 (it wasn't a birding trip....), so it was a pretty level playing-field! We shopped around, looked at various options like Costa Rica and Peru, but eventually decided that a great way in would be to 'do' some selected portions of Brasil. Brasil is massive. Do not underestimate that! Don' try and cover more than a fraction of it on any one trip.

Timing and time needed

  • August is dry season in southern Brasil. While this makes breeding activity almost non-existent, it also makes birding much easier than in the wet season, and the Pantanal, while not nearly as wet as we had imagined, has good concentrations of birds in the areas that are wet.

  • Do not try and cover widely separated areas if you have less than three weeks. Concentrate on (say) just the SE Atlantic forests.


  • SE Brasil - a bit unpredictable. Often overcast and a bit chilly, and one severe cold front passed through. But a pleasant climate to start the trip!

  • Inland - superb. Days were hot and dry, nights warm but not really humid. Never unbearable, except for an hour or two around lunch time in the jungle. Take siesta - the birds do!


  • The ENTIRE TRIP was set up for us by Edson Endrigo (SE Brasil - and Braulio Carlos of the Pantanal Bird Club (Pantanal, Chapada, Alta Floresta, Serra das Araras).

  • These guys are not cheap, but they are utter professionals, and WORTH EVERY PENNY! And just compare the price of your trip with an 'organised' tour set up by any UK company - no comment!

  • We hired Edson on a private basis, and joined up with one of Braulio's fixed departure tours (actually, 3 of them back to back!). On the latter, we were joined by four very pleasant Danish people, only one of whom was a very keen birder.

  • So the whole thing was arranged for us - what a luxury!


  • We read various trip reports culled from the web, and got utterly confused. The sheer number of possible species was frightening!

  • The great news on the field guide front was that our preparations coincided with the publication in English of 'All the Birds of Brasil' by Sousa, a book previously only available in Portuguese.

  • Being honest, we'd have to say that this is a poor bird book by modern standards, with some truly awful pictures - BUT all the species are there, and as pictorial reference and aide-de-memoire as to what you have seen (as opposed to being a help in identifying a new species in a tree!), it was VERY useful, and we found ourselves referring to it extremely frequently. It may be worth taking books such as Hilty & Brown too, especially for Amazonia.

  • It can currently only be ordered from the UK via the Pantanal Bird Club. See their website.

A note on photography

  • For us, a big feature of this trip was the opportunity to use our brand new Canon D60 digital SLR camera in the field. it performed brilliantly, with one hitch. In the Alta Floresta forest, the LCD display on the back misbehaved rather, displaying the images upside down and back to front for a while! the camera otherwise functioned perfectly, and there was no impact on picture quality. We suspect a humidity problem? Canon checked it over and replaced some parts within days of return.

  • We used (for birds) the superb Canon 100-400mm Image Stabilized lens. Flawless.


4th August - arrival in Sao Paulo, Ubatuba

5th August - Ubatuba, Itatiaia NP

6th August - Itatiaia NP

7th August - Itatiaia NP, Campos do Jordao

8th August - transport to Cuiaba

9th August - northern Pantanal of Pocone, Pixaim River

10th August - Pixaim River, Jaguar Ecological Reserve

11th August - Jaguar Ecological Reserve, Campos do Jofre

12th August - Jaguar Ecological Reserve, Pixaim River

13th August - Pixaim River, transport to Cuiaba, then Chapada dos Guimaraes

14th August - Chapada dos Guimaraes NP, Veu de Novia waterfall

15th August - Chapada dos Guimaraes NP, Coxipo d'Ouro, transport to Cuiaba

16th August - transport (by air) to Alta Floresta, travel by road and boat to Cristalino Jungle Lodge

17th August - Cristalino Jungle Lodge

18th August - Cristalino Jungle Lodge, transport to Alta Floresta

19th August - Cristalino Jungle Lodge

20th August - Cristalino Jungle Lodge

21st August - Alta Floresta, transport to Cuiaba

22nd August - Serra das Araras

23rd August - Serra das Araras

24th August - Serra das Araras, transport to Cuiaba

25th August - transport to Sao Paulo and London

Blow-by-blow birding account

Day 1 - 4th August

We arrived at Sao Paulo pretty much on time, at about 0600, and it took only an hour or so to negotiate passport control and baggage reclaim. And there was Edson Endrigo at the arrivals barrier, full of beans and ready to go. Rarely have we been birding so quickly after landing! It was straight into his car, and off onto the largely deserted freeways (it was a Sunday) towards our first destination, Ubatuba. It was a little frustrating to see lots of lifers from a speeding car - but we could only trust Edson’s assertions that these were common species we'd see up country next week anyway. Campo Flicker, White-tailed Kite, Southern Crested Caracara - even Whistling Heron and (when Simon dropped off for a moment) Least Grebe....more of that one later!

By mid-morning, we were dropping down the escarpment of the Serra do Mar towards the sea and Ubatuba. The forests here are among the most threatened in South America - the higher altitude forests around here are better protected and less accessible, but the low level areas are already largely blitzed by agriculture and growing towns. Much of the forest is secondary and lower quality than the primary forests uphill, but (so far) most of the species have clung on - and Edson knows where to look! We started at Fazenda Angelim, an area of mixed primary and secondary forest - what a confusing first hour. Edson was calling birds we'd never even heard of within minutes - when the first bird after the gate is called as "Sao Paulo Tyrannulet", you know you're in an Endemic Bird Area! Edson was very energetic in his pursuit of top birds for us - within an hour or two, we had scored with really special birds such as Rufous-crowned Ant-thrush, Spot-backed Antshrike, Black Hawk-eagle overhead, Hang-nest and the very rare Fork-tailed Tody-tyrants, Squamate Antbird (a recent split from White-bibbed), White-shouldered Fire-eye, and a multitude of tyrants and tanagers, the latter including Flame-crested, Red-necked, Olive-green and Fawn-coloured, Long-billed Gnat-wren and several hummer species, including Reddish Hermit. We heard a Sharpbill calling, but only got hopeless flight views of it departing, unfortunately. In all, overwhelming, and not a little daunting for Day 1!

It was time for a lunch injection - albeit a late one - in a churrascaria on the Ubatuba seafront. As vegetarians, we were a bit nervous of these "eat all the meat you can think of” affairs, but fortunately they all turned out to have superb salad bars too! It was a bit hard to focus on food, given extreme exhaustion and too many good birds, not to mention a Kelp Gull drifting past - although it was the only gull of the entire trip. After checking in to our clean and comfortable little hotel, we were off again, via a couple of flyover Magnificent Frigatebirds (actually, how many people see them perched anyway?!?), this time to the Folia Seca trail. We were getting our second wind (of sorts), and were ready for new species - and we got them very quickly! Edson tape-lured a Slaty Bristlefront (our first tapaculo) to within feet of the trail, White-bearded, Pin-tailed and Blue Manakins were displaying by the track, White-throated Woodcreeper emerged briefly, and Julia got onto a single Neotropical River Warbler. Julia was desperate to see a motmot (any motmot!), and we succeeded with two Rufous-crowned in the fading light. Not so the Least Pygmy-owl that was calling from just a few feet away - we couldn't see it.

What a fantastic first day - well over 100 species, and we were hardly off the plane! Pizza by the roadside and log-call, then we crawled gratefully into bed and slept like babies.

Day 2 – 5th August

Up and active at 0600, and straight off to Fazenda Capricorn, which just about straddles the Tropic. It was murky and misty again to begin with today, but that did mean it was a lot cooler than we had feared. Masses of birds once more at this tiny patch of forest, cared for by a local carpenter. The feeders at his house alone produced our first Blue Dacnis, Green-headed Tanager and hummer concentrations, including such wonders as Festive Coquette, Violet-crowned Wood-nymph, Sombre Hummingbird and Saw-billed Hermit. We enticed a White-tailed Trogon out into full view over our heads, a Lineated Woodpecker did its stuff in a huge Cecropia tree and Streak-capped Ant-wrens showed well by the road. Our first Southern Yellowthroats shared a marshy thicket with Yellow-lored Tody-tyrant, Creamy-bellied Thrush and Brasilian Tanagers – unbelievably intense red. Other tanagers included Golden-chevroned and Ruby-crowned. After enjoying these fabulous birds, we drove up through the mist to the sunlit uplands, and a little way north-east to Itatiaia National Park. Our only significant stops en route were for two sets of displaying Streamer-tailed Tyrants (incredibly showy and noisy!), White-tailed Hawk, and a little marsh where Wing-banded Hornero was guaranteed, along with Masked Water-tyrant and our first spinetails, Yellow-chinned. We blinkered ourselves to various birds glimpsed from the car on the way up the access road into INP, and waited until we were checked in at the sprawling, comfortable Hotel Simon before we started birding properly.

The gardens were full of birds, especially around Mr. Simon’s garden feeders – where to begin? Saw-billed Hermit, Black Jacobin, Versicolored Emerald, Brasilian Ruby and many Bananaquits vied for space with Magpie Tanagers, Olive-green Tanagers, Chestnut-bellied Euphonias, Yellow-fronted Woodpeckers and various caciques, sparrows and cowbirds. Many photographs and two hours later, it was time to take a walk with Edson up the Tres Picos trail, starting just behind the large outdoor swimming pool. As usual in tropical forests, the birds came in fits and starts, but the quality was exceptional. Black-throated Trogon appeared within just a few minutes, calling enthusiastically. White-bibbed Antbirds showed in bamboo by the track, generously displaying all relevant fieldmarks that have led to the split form Squamate Antbird, along with a couple of Bertoni’s Antbirds. A White-collared Foliage-gleaner represented a whole new group for us, and Saffron and Spot-billed Toucanets provided the colour. White-throated Hummingbird was new too, as were Velvety Black Tyrant, Plumbeous Pigeon and Blue-naped Euphonia. Pride of place probably goes to the very local and difficult Black-capped Piprites or Manakin – no problem for Edson and his tape player – although Star-throated Antwren and (for Julia only) Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper must come a close second! Exhausted, we celebrated Edson’s birthday with cake to top off a massive meal at the excellent Hotel Simon restaurant.

Day 3 – 6th August

A large accountancy firm had hired almost all the hotel for a conference during our stay – how these people worked all day and then partied until 4 am defeats me. But not a great night’s sleep…. Never mind! From our breakfast table at 0600 we could watch Red-breasted Toucan, Black Jacobin and many more, plus a brief view of a Cavy disappearing into a flower-bed!

With only a couple of stops for local goodies like Uniform Finch, (brief) Slaty-breasted Wood-rail, Grey-hooded Attila and many Dusky-legged Guans around a well stocked bird-feeder, we headed downhill, west, and back uphill toward the well-known Aguilias Negras road, heading for higher altitude species.

Just a few yards from the car, we scored with crippling views of Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper (got that one back quickly!), Large-tailed Antshrike, Rufous-backed Antvireo, the incredible Diademed Tanager, Thick-billed Saltator, Brassy-breasted Tanager and Red-rumped Warbling-finch. A Scaly-throated Hermit caught our attention, but then a much smaller hummer flew by and perched up – Black-breasted Plovercrest! Unbelievable bird. We pushed on up the hill on foot, stopping frequently for such special birds as Serra do Mar Tyrannulet, Shear-tailed Tyrant, Mouse-coloured Tapaculo and Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner. At our highest point on the walk (still only 500m or so from the car), a very high-pitched, haunting whistle announced the presence of a top endemic super-bird – Black-and-gold Cotinga. It took a while, but eventually we had good flight views of one crossing the track – incredibly elusive for such a striking bird!

The descent produced still more good birds – Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, Golden-crowned Warbler, Rufous-capped Greenlet and so on – but a rather unsettling prospect faced us back at the car – four armed police with revolvers and shotguns drawn. Er….we smiled a bit and looked at the ground a lot as Edson tried to find out the problem. The story went (apparently) that ‘vagabonds’ were making this trail a very dangerous one to visit – murdering a car’s occupants, stealing the car’s contents, and throwing the car over the edge. Edson (privately) doubted it – he’d never heard such a story on this trail or anywhere nearby. The short-term problem was that they thought we might be the ‘vagabonds’, and had called for a tow-truck to take away Edson’s car. He didn’t have his official papers with him…. Much negotiation and showing of bird photos, and many daft grins from the mad English tourists later, the tow-truck got called off, and we were allowed to continue, but it was pretty clear that we wouldn’t be allowed to continue up the road. Bang went any chance of Itatiaia Spinetail or Pampa Finch – but firearms tend to speak volumes in such cases!

Slightly disappointed, but relieved, we headed back downhill, stopping off in an area of farmland for our first puffbirds (2 White-eared – very noisy), Sooty Tyrannulet and Black-capped Donacobius, followed by a cracking Apolomado Falcon at the ‘Hornero swamp’. On returning to the Hotel Simon area, we had good success in the forests by the road – many more tanagers, Syristes, a much better view of Rufous-crowned Motmot, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, and several new flycatchers. The feeders down the hill finally surrendered the much-desired Black-eared Fairy hummer.

Lunch was marked by the ONLY rain of the entire trip – two hours of lashing, cold, violent, squally, cold front rain, battering the banana trees and sending everything flying for cover, including a large squadron of White-collared Swift jet-fighters. We took our scheduled siesta – and awoke to bright, fresh air – perfect timing! The plan for the afternoon was to explore the area around the Donati lodge area, again just a few hundred metres from the hotel. Edson was delighted that we managed to connect with several very scarce species – he tape-lured a pair of gorgeous White-bearded Antshrikes, and coaxed a Robust Woodpecker really close with playback of its gunshot-like drum. A Brown Tanager teased us for a good ten minutes before giving really good views – a subtle bird, clearly the ‘evil twin’ of certain foliage-gleaners! Down the hill behind the swimming pool, we could hear a Variegated Ant-pitta calling, but it simply refused to approach – a Rufous-breasted Gnat-eater and a White-bibbed Antbird had to do! The evening was closing in, and it was time to try for nightbirds. Edson tried one site near the main hotel pool for Tawny-browed Owl – no reply. Then we tried 50 metres downhill from the gate – and instant success! The owl showed really well right above us for several minutes, apparently quite unconcerned. A good finish to a strange day!

Day 4 – 7th August

We had just a few target species to ‘mop up’ at Itatiaia, so it was back down to Donati after an early breakfast. With only a little effort, Edson called in a superb Black-billed Scythebill – how does that bill work?! We had only heard Black-throated Saltator yesterday – but today a showy bird was less reclusive, in the same patch of woodland behind the chapel as Euler’s Flycatcher, Black-capped Foliage-gleaner and Greenish Schiffornis. But it was soon time to travel, on to Campos do Jordao, where the promise of subtly different species in very different habitat awaited us.

It was a fairly long drive, but essentially in the right direction towards Sao Paulo. Campos is a smart and fast-growing ‘alpine’ resort for well-to-do Paulistas – it is a bit like a Polish Blackpool, only hotter..... We arrived pretty much in the heat of the day. Birding was therefore slow to begin with, but a pretty much instant red-morph Surucua Trogon got us off to a good start, followed by Blue-naped Chlorophonia and the very special bird of this area, Araucaria Tit-spinetail, a species strictly associated with the weird flat-topped conifers of these hills. A trip to a high look-out point across to a huge granite exfoliation dome was well worthwhile – and not only for the view. Two Hellmayr’s Pipits showed well and displayed in full Meadow Pipit fashion over the grassland, and some distant Curl-crested Jays were new.

Now pretty hot, we descended and had refreshments (including ice-cream) by a fish farm in the valley – few birds here. We stopped here and there on the way into the National Park proper, nailing several new species such as Plush-crested Jay and the endangered Vinaceous-breasted Parrot, before climbing up into the hills, above the valley forests. We could hear Black-and-gold Cotingas calling (but could not find one to look at!). As the sun began to set, Edson was well-pleased to find a Lesser Grass Finch close to a favourite site he’d had for them that had been burned a year or two back. It was even better when a Wedge-tailed Grass Finch decided to show up alongside it!

The final act of the day turned out to be the best, and rates among the best of the entire trip. We sat hopefully at a bend in the road watching for nightjars – nothing, and it had got virtually dark. A dip? On down the road, a Rusty-barred Owl tape elicited no response – and the car seemed to have broken down. A disaster? A farmer rolled up in a 4x4, offering at best to escort us down (if we got started), and at worst a tow – great! But even then, something flew past in the gloaming. “There!” someone shouted, and Edson’s beam picked out, for perhaps 5 glorious seconds, the finest Nightjar we have ever seen – a full adult male Long-trained Nightjar, its tail feathers making up well over half its total length, seeming to float along behind as it flew. Then fireflies started zipping about the trees, adding a magical touch – and at once, a gruff booming signalled the arrival of the Rusty-barred Owl! Outrageous stuff. Again, Edson’s torch did the trick, and we got simply crippling views of a really handsome bird.

Now it really was time to go – a three hour drive on good roads saw us back in central Sao Paulo by 2230. A very comfortable hotel in (to the casual visitor) a very alarming and intimidating city.

Edson had been brilliant – it was a real shame to have to say goodbye after just four days – but what success. We had already seen well over 200 species, many of them endemics, and our Brasilian adventure was off to a great start.

Day 5 – 8th August

Edson’s younger brother Lamir picked us up in his cab as planned at 0630, and delivered us without incident to GRU airport. We had plenty of time before our flight to Cuiaba, which left later in the morning. An entirely uneventful flight via Goiania saw us landing in the capital of Mato Grosso state at around lunchtime, having gained another hour by crossing a time zone. Hot! Very hot! 35 degrees plus.

Braulio Carlos was waiting for us as planned at the gate, and we were quickly installed in the Hotel Diplomata, just a few hundred metres from the airport. Today was a non-birding day, so it was MTV, air-con, snack food, cool drinks and postcards until an early night and much sleep recovery!

Day 6 – 9th August

Braulio picked us up in a spacious Mercedes minibus with his driver, Ze. Plenty of room for us, all our kit, and the four Danish people we were picking up. They had arrived late the night before, and were lodged right in downtown in a small hotel – we picked them up around 0730 : Joergen and his wife Rhea (American by birth), Joergen’s brother Poul, and their friend Robin. All aboard, and off towards the Pantanal – via our long-awaited and very first Burrowing Owls!

We stopped for a break at Pocone, and shortly afterwards, the road downgraded to a gravel track, the famed Transpantaneira Highway. It is wide and well-graded until well into the swamps, but then narrows significantly, and crosses numerous quite rickety-looking wooden bridges – hairy, but OK if you keep birding and leave the driving to the driver!

Our first stop by a few pools produced several species we’d soon become familiar with – Rufescent Tiger-heron, Green Ibis, Southern Screamer, Guira Cuckoo, Amazon Kingfisher, Black-collared and Savannah Hawks, Limpkin, Striated Heron, Vermilion Flycatcher and Whistling Heron, plus a few goodies such as Toco Toucan, Saffron-billed Sparrow, Red-crested Finch, Barred Antshrike, Pearly-vented Tody-tyrant and Narrow-billed Woodcreeper.

Simon picked out a couple of blobs moving about among some cows, and some serious ‘scope work in the heat haze revealed three Red-legged Seriemas – not quite the views we’d hoped for, but a tricky bird seen early on! Other large blobs in fields turned out to be variously termite mounds, Capybaras and Greater Rheas!

Further down the road, some fabulous concentrations of waterbirds awaited us. Jostling for position among swarms of Spectacled Caymans were American Wood-storks, huge Jabirus, a very few Maguari Storks, Great and Snowy Egrets, Capped and Black-crowned Night-herons, a few Roseate Spoonbills, several ibis species, Wattled Jacanas and Grey-necked Wood-rails. All these were common throughout our stay in the Pantanal. Other species around these pools included the very charismatic Large-billed Tern, White-throated Kingbird, Grayish Saltator, Great Black Hawk, many Snail Kites, Rufous-collared Seedeater, Long-tailed Ground-dove and various other new passerines. Big shout – HYACINTH MACAW! Two flying birds provided our much-anticipated first look at the Pantanal’s flagship bird. Immense, lazily-flapping cobalt blue parrots – incredible.

As we approached our lodge at Santa Teresa, on the Pixaim River, we saw two Marsh Deer (one grievously wounded by antlers in a rutting incident), and a Grey Brocket Deer too.

Lunch was deeply welcome, as was our clean, air-conditioned room! It was hard to stop birding, but we needed a break, and tore ourselves away from the Yellow-billed Cardinals, Saffron Finches, Giant and Bay-winged Cowbirds and Purplish Jays on the feeders for an hour or two.

After a bit of much-needed laundry (clothes drying in about 3 minutes in the dry, 35deg+ heat) and a chat with the pet Toucans and Peccary (quickly nicknamed ‘Gregory’ – think about it), it was off on a boat trip on the river. I’ve done a few tropical creek expeditions, but this was just about the best. The river was thick with birds – Anhingas, Neotropical Cormorants, egrets, various herons, including many Boat-billed – and Spectacled Caymans and Capybara too. Our first Chestnut-eared Aracaris flew over, and Rusty-backed Spinetail and Rusty-margined Flycatcher were new too. Within just a hundred metres of the lodge, we found a Sungrebe swimming in the shade of the bank – an elusive and highly desirable bird! Braulio quickly heard a Helmeted Manakin calling in the bushes nearby, and a bit of coaxing resulted in great views. A pair of White-wedged Piculets mobbed a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl, and Pale-legged Horneros patrolled the muddy banks.

As dusk fell, we completed the ‘kingfisher full house’ – Ringed, Amazon, Green-and-rufous, Green and the tricky American Pygmy, and Turquoise-fronted Parrots flew to roost. In the fading light, Braulio spotted movement under a sprawling bush – Agami Heron! This is a very easy bird to miss, and was our only sniff at the species. Fantastic stuff – topped only by a great display of Pauraques and Band-tailed Nighthawks at dusk, and the landing stage collapsing under Poul and Robin at the lodge! A brilliant day in the famous Pantanal.

Day 7 – 10th August

Our early walk today was in the dry gallery forest alongside the river – in the wet season, much of it is swamp! The passerine list grew rapidly – selected (!) highlights included Little, Golden-green and Pale-crested Woodpeckers, Thrush-like, Moustached and Buff-breasted Wrens, Rufous-fronted and Great Thornbirds, Green-backed Becard, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-tyrant, Rusty-fronted Tody-flycatcher, Stripe-necked Tody-tyrant (you can see why we were getting confused!), Planalto Slaty and Great Antshrikes, Band-tailed and Mato Grosso Antbirds, Rusty-backed and Large-billed Antwrens, Rufous Casiornis, Hooded Tanager, Flavescent Warbler and Ashy-headed Greenlet. Julia even found a small snake to frighten herself with. Great birding. Several Capuchin Monkeys, some Black-hooded (or Nanday) Parakeets and a Bicolored Hawk finished off a good walk.

After lunch, it was time to drive south towards Porto Jofre, and the Jaguar Ecological Reserve. The journey provided a few new birds, such as (the much-wanted) Long-winged Harrier, plus Solitary Sandpiper, Scarlet-headed Blackbird, White-tailed Goldenthroat, Bare-faced Curassow and White Woodpecker. But the parrot count was now rising too – Monk, Peach-fronted and Yellow-chevroned Parakeet and Golden-collared Macaw were in evidence, and numerous Hyacinth Macaws were flying around as we neared the lodge. We arrived just prior to dusk – just in time to see huge numbers of waterbirds flying to roost – we counted 500 Great Egrets in several loose flocks in just 3 or 4 minutes – and they kept coming! The Hyacinth Macaws, with only Rufous Horneros as serious rivals, made it a noisy and exciting end to the day.

End? No way – not with Braulio around! We headed out again after dark with flashlight and tape player, in search of nightbirds. Big success! Braulio is a god at dazzling and catching nightjars – we had close-up views of Pauraque, Scissor-tailed and Rufous Nightjars in this way. Another big target in the Pantanal is mammals, of course – but we never dreamt that the first one we’d see on the road would be a Brasilian Tapir! A great surprise. We finished up with brief views of Tropical Screech-owl, a flyover Barn Owl, and amazing views of the night sky in the moonless, utterly dark night, lit only by the occasional Perseid meteor.

Day 8 – 11th August

It was birding from the road for the most part today, but thankfully on foot – we’d been doing rather too much trailing about in the bus with brief stops for our liking! The dry woodland along the spur road west from the Transpantaneira was highly productive, with new species such as Blue-crowned Trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Great Rufous and Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Fawn-breasted Wren (essentially identical to Buff-breasted Wren in the field, but with a wholly different voice), Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Little Cuckoo and Chestnut-bellied Guan. At least one Bat Falcon showed extremely well, perched up, and an Undulated Tinamou crossed the road, as did several Bare-faced Curassows and an Azara’s Agouti.

Exploration of an excellent area of mature palms produced Streaked Flycatcher and various parrots, including the fabulous and sobering sight of over 1% of all the world’s Hyacinth Macaws in a single tree....

After lunch and siesta, it was time to explore the open areas of grassland and swamp to the south of the Jaguar Ecological Reserve, around Campo Jofre. The bridges got worse and worse, but the birds alleviated any concerns. We saw few ducks in Brasil, and most in the Pantanal – Muscovy, White-faced and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, and Brasilian Teal were all here. A Striped Cuckoo finally showed well in roadside vegetation (after many ‘heard only’ birds), a few Maguari Storks wandered about among the cattle and Capybara, and a few choice passerines turned up too – Chotoy and Cinereous-breasted Spinetails, and White-browed Blackbird. A single Little Blue Heron flew over with other herons to roost. The weirdest sight here was of scores of what looked like cowpats waking up and flying off as dusk fell – Nacunda Nighthawks! At one point well over 50 flew over in loose formation – in all there must have been hundreds of them.

In the gloaming and the evil mosquito haze, we played Jaguar tapes into the vastness of the Pantanal night – but there was sadly no response. The drive home produced at least two Great Horned Owls, several nightjars, and best of all a Crab-eating Fox by the road. A late finish.

Day 9 – 12th August

Another morning outing to the spur road produced several new species, such as Red-billed Scythebill (just as amazing as the Black-billed species), Red-throated Piping-guan, Black-crowned Tityra and a wonderful pair of Laughing Falcons, which showed brilliantly by the road. After a late breakfast, it was time to drive back up the road to the Pixaim River. Finally, after much peering at shady riverbanks, we saw our first, much-anticipated Sunbitterns. Every bit as fantastic as we’d expected. A weird hybrid of heron and crake, with a bit of wader thrown in! In the heat of the day, raptors were getting up, and another adult male Long-winged Harrier over the road vied with a brief Crane Hawk for ‘raptor of the day’ award. Not forgetting those Laughing Falcons, of course….

Our afternoon trip was another boat excursion, this time upstream along the much-meandering river – only about 3 km as the Jabiru flies, but much longer on the water! Far fewer waterbirds this way, but Joergen did turn up our first Red-crested Cardinal, and there was plenty to keep us entertained as we travelled, including more Sunbitterns. The target species, however, was non-avian, and a bit of patience and a few whistles in a sluggish bend of the river soon turned up the fabulous Giant River Otters. At least three showed very well within yards of the boat, feeding on choice piranha (crunching the bones enthusiastically) and cavorting about in the shallows. Hardly attractive animals as such (resembling Winston Churchill), but mighty impressive and really exciting!

The trip back provided another unexpected highlight. Braulio had heard a Zigzag Heron, well out of known range, calling from riverside bushes in this area some months before, and we pulled the boat up to try a tape in the same spot. We hardly expected success – surely his bird had been a vagrant wanderer from the known range of the upper Amazon basin. Indeed, several minutes passed without response, and as the light faded and the mozzies started biting, we began to give up. But then something called back! (Actually, only Julia heard it!) We manoeuvred the boat right into the bush, and finally, after much peering and spotlighting, Braulio located not one but two Zigzag Herons – and they were recently fledged juveniles! Not just a life tick (and a hard bird anywhere), but also an ornithologically significant range extension of the ‘least known heron species’ (HBW). Fabulous!

Tired and bitten to death, we got home in the dark. Our travelling companions even managed to get out of the boat without the landing stage sinking, as it had done last time!

Day 10 – 13th August

Possibly our earliest morning of the lot – out in the field at 5.30 (dark) looking for nightjars in the fields by the lodge. We did see Spot-winged Nightjar – but only briefly! The dawn soon broke, revealing a family party of Great Horned Owls in large trees by the gate, and we spent a good couple of hours working the ditches and bushes near there – Chotoy and Yellow-chinned Spinetails, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, White-rumped Monjita, plus more White Woodpeckers and various commoner passerines. Another Crab-eating Fox was a bonus.

The journey back north towards Cuiaba was notable mostly for its mammals – a single (old male?) Coati by the road, a Neotropical River Otter in a slough on the other side, plus Marsh and Grey Brocket Deer. More Sunbitterns too!

It was time to say goodbye to the Pantanal – we knew we had only scratched the surface of this huge area! What must it be like in the wet season, with billions of mozzies and huge floods over much of the landscape? Another time….

We got back to Cuiaba about lunchtime, and appropriately ate a huge lunch in a diner near the airport. Once we were again stuffed to the gills, we headed northeast for the 60+km drive to Chapada dos Guimaraes. En route, we stopped off in our first patch of hot, dry, very dusty cerrado, seeing new species such as Biscutate Swift, Campos Flycatcher (noting its call and structure ready for tomorrow….) and Crowned Slaty Flycatcher.

The road slowly climbed uphill, and then hugged the red sandstone escarpment up to the plateau. A truckstop on the way provided a chance to see our first Red-and-green Macaws, but it remained just a bit too hot. Finally, it got cooler as we approached a wonderful viewpoint over the plains below – the geodetic centre of the continent, marked by a feeble three inch high concrete trig point! Birds were a bit thin on the ground, sadly, but included Grey Monjita, Bat Falcon, some distant Dusky Swifts, Grassland Sparrow and (in a patch of dense woodland) Southern Antpipit, seen and heard well.

It had been mostly a travel day – it was good to check into the (rather holiday camp-like) hotel, cool off, and go for a huge meal in the town. We clocked the Burrowing Owls by the gate as we went in – a good photo opportunity to be had tomorrow!

Day 11 – 14th August

Up early and after a light breakfast, off into the cerrado proper in the National Park, just a few minutes from the hotel. Very special birds, very quickly! White-rumped and White-banded Tanagers, Black-throated Saltator, Rufous-winged Antshrike, Plumbeous Seedeater, White-eared Puffbird and Curl-crested Jay were all quite easy, though unfortunately only Simon got onto a Coal-crested Finch. A White-vented Violetear attending some bright yellow flowers was quickly trumped by a superb male Horned Sungem – another made-up hummer name! Chapada Flycatchers repaid yesterday’s study of Campos Fly by calling and looking different – a recent split understood! Red-legged Seriemas called madly around us – but didn’t show! A Chequered Woodpecker drummed, called and showed off on a spindly tree near the dusty main track. We tried and failed for Rufous-sided Pygmy-tyrant at Braulio’s favourite spot….

But our most-wanted target bird still eluded us. We could hear it calling – like a Scops Owl on amphetamine. Braulio loaded the tape, explained that the bird came fast and low, and hit play. Within seconds, incredibly, the bird was at our feet, its approach unseen, calling like a maniac – and then it showed! Collared Crescentchest – another amazing tapaculo. What a blinding bird. Well worth all the thorn scrub, dust and heat!

We moved on to the Cidade de Pedra rock formations, and enjoyed the spectacular view over the cliffs, also enjoying the cooling breeze. A Yellow-billed Blue Finch was among the few birds around. A few Rheas and a Pampas Deer enlivened the ride back to the road, but it was once again hot, and time for a cooling swim (and in Simon’s case, waterslide) and siesta. Julia, by now, had contracted a rather nasty cold and was suffering a bit…but she battled on gamely, as indeed she did through the whole of the rest of the trip! Brave soldier….

Lunch! An hour to forget birds – no chance! Without our bins, Simon proceeded to shout American Swallow-tailed Kite over the distant houses of the town – oh dear! Luckily, Braulio’s scope was in the van, and good views were had of one of the big target birds for the trip.

Some Yellow-tufted Woodpeckers, Violaceous Euphonias and Swallow Tanagers served as the prelude to a drive down to another patch of dry woodland – Spot-backed Puffbird was the highlight, but we also caught up with White-bellied Warbler, Scaled Pigeon and Blue-winged Macaw, before heading on to the Veu de Novia waterfall for dusk. A lovely, thin waterfall plunges over the sandstone cliffs into the lush gorge below, as toucans, parrots, macaws and swifts vie for attention in the trees and sky above. A wonderful way to finish the day.

Day 12 – 15th August

This morning, we were determined to nail that pesky Rufous-sided Pygmy-tyrant – so it was back to the cerrado area at first light – and it was calling! It took a good half hour, but eventually, Braulio’s persistence paid off – good views of a globally threatened species. Not hugely exciting aesthetically…but not to be passed up! We left before it was warm enough for many other birds to get going – just an Aplomado Falcon, and Small-billed Tinamous and Rheas calling in the distance.

Next, it was down the hill to Portao da Fe, a small patch of remnant forest. At first, it was depressingly quiet – just a few tyrannulets and a couple of Pale-crested Woodpeckers. To be honest, it was dull for well over an hour. Joergen and the others gave up and went home, but we persisted, desperately trying to remind ourselves that tropical forests could be like this – very patchy in time and space! Still nothing. Poor views of a new hermit. Yet another antshrike (Planalto Slaty). Yawn. Dull. Let’s try mimicking an owl…

MAYHEM! The first bird was (probably) a responding Ferruginous Pygmy-owl, closely followed by the most fabulous hour’s birding of the trip. An incredible 34 species of passerine and near-passerine mobbed the owl as it desperately tried to be inconspicuous. To see mixed flocks comprised of Squirrel Cuckoo, Fiery-capped Manakin, Dot-eared Coquette, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Amethyst Woodstar, Fork-tailed Wood-nymph, White-winged Becard, three species of euphonia, seven species of tanager, White-wedged Piculet, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Rufous Casiornis, Moustached Wren, Pale-breasted Thrush and Bran-coloured Flycatcher, and so many more, was unbelievable. As Braulio said – Christmas tree birding!

Even when the mobbing finally died down, we were still rewarded with a weird-looking Pheasant Cuckoo calling and finally showing well by the track, more Blue-crowned Motmots and Blue-crowned Trogons, and Sepia-coloured Flycatcher. Flushed with success, we returned to the hotel for a well-earned siesta! Only a few more Swallow-tailed Kites could disturb our postcard writing….

In the afternoon, it was time to get moving towards Cuiaba once more, but via the small town of Coxipo d’Ouro. Near there, Braulio had a couple of top sites, first for Pale-bellied Tyrant-manakin (resembling a mourner – subtle and interesting), then for Red-shouldered and Red-bellied Macaws. Black-tailed Marmosets enlivened the former site too.

As dusk fell we left the plateau behind – the seasonal fires, no doubt at least mildly enhanced by deliberate fire-setting, pumping smoke into the afternoon sky.

And so back to Cuiaba, goodbye to Ze, and another night in the Hotel Diplomata – unfortunately right above the noisy laundry. Much verbal severity in pidgin-Portuguese later, and things quietened down in time for an early night.

Day 13 – 16th August

The start of phase IV – the trek to the Amazon basin! It was a slow start, since our flight wasn’t until 1130, but we were all in place and eager when Braulio arrived at the airport with our tickets. He had managed to walk off with both sets of keys from his apartment, so he had to rush back home to drop them off, before returning to join us – he got stuck in bad traffic, and only made it with 10 minutes to go. Close!

The 30-seater plane was noisy and bumpy – lots of thermals and stomach-churning. No-one vomited, but I felt a bit queasy. We stopped off briefly in Sinop on the c. 2 hour journey. On arrival in Alta Floresta (hot!), we transferred to the Floresta Amazonica hotel for lunch (it’s run by the same people as the Cristalino Jungle Lodge), and then once things cooled down a bit, headed north in a big van towards the Teles Pires River crossing. Stops en route turned up a few good birds (including our only Common Gallinules – or Moorhens! – Scarlet Macaw and Sulphury Flycatcher, but we only heard Point-tailed Palmcreeper at the regular spot…), but it was depressing to travel through so much utterly devastated land. Cattle everywhere, grazing on introduced African grasses, where only a decade earlier had been virgin rainforest. A haunted place.

But the river raised our spirits – here we were, some 1500 miles from the Amazon’s mouth, and this small tributary was already wider than the Thames in London! And on the far bank was dense, lush jungle. Into the boats as dusk fell, and off across the river, quickly turning off up the Cristalino River. Braulio even managed to find us Blackish Nightjar and Great Potoo by torchlight before we got to the Lodge, about 20 minutes later. This was like something out of Harry Potter – boats in the dark, candlelit landing and porters to carry your bags. Cool!

The noise was deafening – this is what we’ll remember most about the forest. Cicadas screaming at ear-splitting frequencies, a thousand different rhythms, a constant, unrelenting hum. Indescribable. Hot meal, bed.

Day 14 – 17th August

Here we go – jungle time! This morning, we walked the Taboca (=bamboo) Trail, a round trip of about 2.8km from the bungalow clearing. We left by 0600, and set off, with many and various stops along the narrow cleared path. The bird list is frightening to review – just some of them here: Grey, Manu and White-browed Antbirds, Pink-throated Becard, Thrush-like Schiffornis, Collared, White- and Black-tailed Trogons, Yellow-ridged Toucan, Red-necked and Lettered Aracaris, Dark-billed and Black-bellied Cuckoos, Black-girdled Barbet, Blue-naped Jacamar, White-fronted Nunbird, Rose-breasted Chat, Amazonian, Plain- and Spot-winged Antshrikes, Yellow-throated Woodpecker, Snethlage’s Tody-tyrant, and even (amazingly) an adult Zigzag Heron running around on tree branches at head height near the river! The birding was certainly hard (Braulio’s laser pointer helped), and our necks hurt, but it wasn’t too hot under the trees, and the rewards were well worth the effort. We didn’t get back until after noon – that works out as about 460m per hour! And an extra bird awaited – a Tataupa Tinamou right by the huts.

Over lunch, we enjoyed the butterflies by the dock and a couple of new species along the riverbank – Swallow-wing and the fantastic Paradise Jacamar. At 1530ish, it was time to head for the tower. Gulp!

The (quite new) metal canopy tower is about a 20 minute walk from the Lodge over rocky terrain – quite treacherous, especially in the dark! The footprint of the tower is perhaps 3 metres square, and it is a sweat-inducing 50 metres tall….. Deep breath, let’s go. 20m - no problem – quick breather. 30m – emerge from the canopy, big platform, hang on and try not to panic. Distinct movement to and fro. Plenty of birds to see – Dusky-billed Parrotlet, White-bellied Parrot, Golden-winged Parakeet, Cuvier’s Toucan, White-necked and Striolated Puffbirds, Bare-necked Fruit-crow, Curl-crested Aracari, Masked Tityra and Long-tailed Tyrant. Braulio and a couple of the others went for it to 50m, but our nerves had got the better of us – we stayed at 30m! But what might they see….?

Pompadour Cotinga!”, shouted Braulio from 20m above us. “Where?”, we replied in unison. “12 o’clock, but you won’t see it from there. Come on up.”

Oh dear. Gingerly, we edged up, one at a time, saw the bird after maybe 5 metres, then shuffled back down again. Cowards, yes. Dippers, no. In this fashion, we also connected with Red-fan Parrot (which eventually moved and perched up right in front) and Spangled Cotinga. No worries!

The descent was fair to middling – not as bad as I’d thought. The reward came with Braulio hearing, tape-luring and spotlighting a Tawny-bellied Screech-owl to within 10 feet right by the trail. This is a hard species to find anywhere, we’re told.

We were just settling down for a pre-meal drink, when a boat got back from upriver – some Italians had just had crippling views of two black Jaguars by the river. Did we want to go and have a try? Of course! So we ran back and got changed into filthy clothes again, and set off with Braulio and some others. It was great being on the river again, but sadly no amount of tape-playing or patient listening could conjure the cats back to the bank. It had been a long shot anyway!

Tired, rather hot, and deafened by cicadas, we ate, and fell into bed.

Day 15 – 18th August

It was just Julia, Simon and Joergen out this morning, and Braulio was taking us up river to the Haffer Trail. En route, we scored with Amazonian Razor-billed Curassow, Cream-coloured and Chestnut Woodpeckers, and best of all a superb male Crimson Topaz, an unbelievable hummer, right by the river. Even Braulio had never seen a ‘proper’ male before. A Neotropical River Otter playing on a sandy bank and then swimming about was a precursor to a bigger mammal – our second Brasilian Tapir, which heaved itself out of the river and crashed off into the forest. A brief stop also turned up a Flame-crested Manakin, and White-banded Swallows skimmed over the river.

The Haffer Trail didn’t have as many big trees as the Taboca Trail, but the bamboo was even denser in places – there’s no such thing as an easy-to-work forest trail! But, again, persistence paid off, and we scored with some really good birds, such as Scaly-backed and Black-faced Antbirds, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Dot-winged Antwren (it’s amazing there are any ants left in these forests…), Bamboo Foliage-gleaner, Slate-coloured Grosbeak, Broad-billed Motmot, Dwarf Tyrant-manakin and Chestnut-throated Spinetail, plus several repeats from the day before. The river ride back turned up new raptors, too – King Vulture and Ornate Hawk-eagle.

We spent the middle of the day around the lodge once more – still marvelling at the scores of different butterflies to be seen. The afternoon trip was again upriver, this time to the Castanheira or Brazil-nut Trail, the highlight of which is a truly immense tree of that species. The trail itself was quite short, and things were rather quiet, but slow walking again turned up goodies – Brown-banded Puffbird, Long-winged Antwren, Long-billed Woodcreeper and a group of incredibly noisy Red-headed Caracaras included. Sunset came all too soon, but did mean that we could again use the flashlight along the river – Common Potoo was the star this time.

Day 16 – 19th August

Today we were to have a long day out in the field, starting with a walk up the granite dome of the Serra Trail. The plan was to get up as high as possible as early as possible, to avoid the worst of the heat and the sweat bees, so we hiked quite hard through the lower forest, stopping only for Warbling Antbird and Black-banded Woodcreeper. Up on the dome, we found ourselves in new habitat – dwarf pineapple and bromeliad scrub, with much dead wood. The birds were different too – Painted Parakeet, Variegated Flycatcher, Masked Tanager, Pied Puffbird, Rufous- and Orange-bellied Euphonias and Purple Honeycreeper were all new.

A Natterer’s Slaty Antshrike (another recent split) competed for attention with Swallow-tailed Kites over the canopy, and it was a real bonus to locate at least two Blackish Nightjars in daylight, sat motionless on the dark granite rock. The temperature began to climb, and we sat still, surveying the forest below, the distant trees (with a certain 50m tower poking out of them), and the all too close tracts of cleared land beyond. Smoke hung in the air. Braulio called in a pair of Gould’s Toucanets, which then proceeded to start displaying loudly –the complete set of possible Toucanids!

Back down the hill again, and back into the boat, for the c. 2 hour trip upstream. En route, our only Black Caracaras of the trip showed well by the river. A quick bit of portage round a very shallow set of rapids also gave us Piratic Flycatcher and Yellow-bellied Dacnis in a cleared farm area. We stopped for lunch tucked under the shade of a river bank (it was now getting really hot), and immediately on getting off the boat, disturbed a small group of Undulated Tinamous, whose calls we’d been hearing for days! Spotted Tody-flycatchers were our other lunchtime companions.

Pushing on upriver, we soon arrived at the first of several slack water ‘lakes’ just off the main channel. These varzea swamps are the classic habitat for a classic bird – Hoatzin. We soon located one (which gave only poor views), and could hear others puffing and panting in the bushes. They only really showed in flight, but this was still a major target bird seen! Rather better (Simon thought) were the endemic Glossy Antshrikes we saw, plus Greater Ani (at last), Cinnamon Attila, Streaked Antwren and (best of all) a pair of very elusive but eventually excellent Varzea Mourners. You can’t get much more habitat specific than that!

It was now stinking hot, and we were all relieved to turn the boat around and head slowly for home. It was dusk by the time we reached the Cristalino Lodge. A late night stake out by the salt lick was sadly negative for Tapir, but we did hear various owls (including Crested) calling in the inky forest.

Day 17 – 20th August

Our last day at Cristalino, and once more it was time to get up that tower! Again, we stopped at 30m, but again we didn’t miss anything as a result….

Among the first birds were five highly desirable and difficult species Tooth-billed Wren (endemic), Slaty-capped Shrike-vireo, Red-billed Pied Tanager, Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak and Gray-bellied Hawk. Apparently ‘no-one’ ever sees the latter. Add in Kawall’s Amazon, Plain Xenops and Black-eared Fairy, and it’s clear that quality made up for the relative paucity of birds. Back down at ground level (thank you!), the birds hotted up once more – Lawrence’s Thrush, Fasciated and Cinereous Antshrikes (the latter again after days of hearing it), White-flanked and Long-winged Antwrens, cracking male Red-headed Manakins, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Curve-billed Scythebill (completing out set of Brasilian scythebills), Long-billed Hermit and Rufous-tailed Flatbill. While watching stupendous butterflies by the salt lick, a Musician Wren started singing – an amazing tuneless whistle! And we got great views too. Another group whistled us over to where they had located a small ant swarm (again, at last!) – and sure enough, there were the highly-desired ant followers, Bare-eyed Antbird and Black-spotted Bare-eye. Red-stained Woodpecker and Black-capped Becard rounded off yet another superb morning in the jungle.

After a final lunch and sad farewells to a truly brilliant place to stay, it was time to take to our boats once more for the journey back to civilisation. Acting on some of our Internet gen., I scanned the beaches of the sandy islands in the Teles Pires river – success! A pair of Pied Lapwings, just as predicted! The journey back to Alta Floresta was largely uneventful, with the important exception of a more successful stop at the palms – Point-tailed Palmcreeper within seconds, and apparently nesting, since it disappeared into a palm and never came out! A Yellowish Pipit in the grasslands was a new species for the district, but a sad reminder of the fact that many grassland birds are now common in this area, where they were unknown just a decade ago. It does not pay to dwell too much on the desecration that is happening in places like this. Alta Floresta offered air conditioning, a pool and ‘luxury’. Give me a forest and ‘basic’ accommodation any day.

Day 18 – 21st August

Enough negativity. Out into the field again at dawn. A tiny remnant patch of forest behind the hotel was surprisingly good – Chestnut-tailed Antbird, Plain-winged Antshrike, Dusky-billed Woodcreeper, Blue-crowned Motmot and so on. We finally managed to see an Amazonian Pygmy-owl, and to hear a Barred Forest-falcon. The disappointment of not seeing the latter was much tempered by first hearing and then seeing another Forest-falcon species – the one that has no scientific or English name yet – we even photographed it! Strong-billed and Lineated Woodcreepers ushered us out of the forest, where good numbers of Crimson-bellied Parakeets and Red-bellied Macaws awaited us.

After a lazy late morning and lunch, we caught the early afternoon flight back to Cuiaba (again via Sinop – but less bumpy this time), and said farewell to Joergen, Rhea, Poul and Robin. Ensconced in the Hotel Diplomata for the third time, we did some recuperation, ready for the final extension, starting tomorrow.

Day 19 – 22nd August

Braulio turned up at the hotel at 0700, and we were ready to roll, this time in his smaller and more ‘intimate’ 4x4 jeep. We were soon heading off to the west, on the c. 120km ride to Serra das Araras, home of the near-mythical Harpy Eagle. En route, we saw a few cerrado species, including Greater Rhea, but we made no stops until we got to our excellent, spa-type lodge, nestled in the valley between two large limestone escarpments. From our lodge’s veranda, we could see a large lake and series of pools with trees all around, where the Harpy was reputed to hunt some days, and a not insignificant patch of valley-floor forest to explore. After a quick unpack, and some photography of an obliging pair of Ferruginous Pygmy-owls, we were ready to go once more!

We had a good two hours in the forest before the heat got fierce (and it did at this site) - we used it to good effect, scoring with Grey-headed Tanager, White-flanked Antwren, the diminutive Short-tailed Pygmy-tyrant, Band-tailed Manakin, Spix’s Guan, good views of White Woodpecker and White-eyed Attila. Bird of the morning, however, was a Sharpbill, giving great views and more than making up for the flight view only we’d had in Ubatuba. We saw a further two over the next two days – the form that occurs here apparently calls very differently from the coastal type – another split looming? Probably!

Lunch was (as usual) huge and excellent. On foreign trips, especially in the tropics, we normally suffer a bit and lose weight. Not in Brasil. The food was without exception copious and superb.

After 1500, it started to cool off a bit, and it was time to search for the Harpy Eagle at this recent breeding site. At least two were still around, and one had been seen hunting waterfowl at the lake as recently as Monday (today was Thursday). So we scanned all the big trees around the lake, trying not to be distracted by the large flocks of Brazilian Ducks, along with Muscovy Ducks and various other water birds, including Solitary Sandpiper and Green Ibis. No luck. We drove along the main forest track, stopping for various raptors, such as Grey-headed Kite, Gray and Bicoloured Hawks, and finally nailing the Cinnamon-throated Hermit that we’d half seen at Chapada dos Guimaraes. White-tailed and Collared Trogons shared a tree, and Orange-backed Troupials and Orange-headed Amazons lit up the late afternoon. A King Vulture soared over the hilltops, and Braulio was excited when Julia found a new species of Spider-monkey (Black) in some distant trees.

We plunged back into the forest as dusk fell, in search of nightbirds. Braulio quickly conjured up an Ocellated Poorwill, and we could hear others calling around us. Owls were harder to come by, but eventually a tape produced a response, too far away to chase. We persisted, and suddenly a stunning Black-banded Owl flew in over our heads and perched up in a big tree, showing fantastically in the torch beam. It was joined by another, and they began duetting in the gathering darkness. Magical. Good views of Pauraque and Scissor-tailed Nightjar (this one with a ‘proper’ tail!) finished off the day, and took us home for dinner happy and excited.

Day 20 – 23rd August

Our penultimate day of birding in Brasil. The plan was to work the forest again first thing, then to emerge mid-morning and search for the Harpy again. It is possible to see the Harpy in the forest, often near troops of monkeys, but one’s odds are much lower. We worked the trail successfully once more – Cocoa Thrush was new, as were Zimmer’s Flatbill, Guira Tanager, Black-throated Antbird and Chivi Vireo. As we crossed a dried up riverbed, we scoured the bed for tracks, but Simon (sadly, only Simon – who was a matter of feet ahead of the others) went one better, coming face to face with an equally startled Ocelot on the side of the track! The cat froze for about three seconds, then vanished in to the forest, never to be seen again. Not quite a Jaguar, but a close second!

An hour searching for the Harpy Eagle again failed – though we were taken to see the nest site of two years ago. On the way, Simon was able to unblock a serious ‘one-up’ that Julia had had on him for almost three weeks – Least Grebe! A family party of nine were ensconced on a muddy pond by the road. A big bonus was a single Ash-coloured Cuckoo in the trees alongside, and Southern Hepatic Tanager and Red-legged Honeycreeper were both new.

Heat struck us down again, and the stone pool at the lodge was very welcome over a long siesta break!

The afternoon trail (via another unsuccessful Harpy scour – can you guess the ending yet?) took us up the hills a little, to a large clearing and tight little ravine. Immediately on getting out of the car, we had a troop of Black Spider-monkeys all around us, with Brown Capuchins in attendance – but sadly no Harpies! The only new bird up the river was Pectoral Sparrow, but by now we were close to saturation point, and had begun to really enjoy the birds and the surroundings here at Serra das Araras. A final look at the lakes produced a migrant wader – a Greater Yellowlegs.

Day 21 – 24th August

A last roll of the dice for the Harpy – no luck! Never mind. The forest continued to turn up new and spectacular species – White-backed Fire-eye (which we’d been hearing for two days), White Hawk, Black-crowned Tityra and Small-billed Tinamou (which turned out to be our 630th and last species!). We had great views of two King Vultures, and nearby found a not very freshly-killed Coati, eaten from the inside out, and apparently the work of…a Harpy Eagle! That really was as close as we got. A Pauraque in broad daylight on the ground was a good find, and we completed our jungle birding with White-lined Tanagers, Thick-billed Euphonias and three species of woodcreepers – plus another Sharpbill!

After a leisurely lunch, and (guess what) a last desperate look for the Harpy, it was time to head back to Cuiaba, on fast but alarmingly uneven roads! We reached the city shortly after nightfall, and checked in for the fourth and final time to the Hotel Diplomata.

Day 22 – 25th August

Transport day. 11.00 – depart for airport. Uneventful Varig flight to Sao Paulo via Campo Grande. Lengthy wait at the international airport broken up by starting to type this trip report in a cybercafé! On time departure with Varig at c. 2230. Overnight flight to London Heathrow (c. 11½ hours), arriving early afternoon on the Monday (26th August).

Finished. That was that. An unbelievable trip – utterly unreal. Writing these words, some four weeks after getting home, and looking at the fabulous set of photos we took, it seems a long way away, and yet fresh and vibrant. This one will live long in the memory, and for sheer diversity of birds (6%+ of ALL known species – plus [at least] one not yet described by science!), brilliance of colour, excellence of guiding, accommodation, food and not least habitat, will take a lot of beating. The best birding on Earth – ever?

Systematic List - please click here

PLEASE contact me if there are glaring errors, or if you'd like further information, or if I can help in any other way.


Simon Woolley

September 2002