Rondonia Bushbird, Brazil - June 2022

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Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Brazil (Part 1) - Arrival & sites close to Porto Velho

I think it was back in 2019 that Richard Fairbank and Nick Preston were arranging a private tour to SW Amazonia, with a hopeful departure set for spring of 2020. They very kindly invited myself along and Paul Noakes too. 

From the off, the itinerary sounded fantastic with a wealth of new birds on offer, including some I'd never heard of. But there were some highly sought-after species on that list too; critically endangered species such as Rondonia Bushbird, and recently described species, were all enticing enough for me to give Rich and Nick the nod. 

Of course, nowt happened in the spring of 2020, and with 2021 out the question too, it was 2022 that would be our year, and it was worth the wait. Over the next five blog posts, I will outline the highlights and a number of photos. It's worth stating at this stage that the overall experience was, for me, slightly depressing, and at times, mildly upsetting. Deforestation is rife in the state of Rondonia and to watch it in action was tough to observe. It was a different situation in the state of Acre (a state which straddles Bolovia and Peru), however, as pretty much everywhere had been cleared many years ago, with only small pockets of decent habitat remaining. It was apparent that the wildlife we were watching would not have a home for too much longer!

On a brighter note, it was a successful trip and I recorded 270 new birds and I'm yet to tot up my overall total. It was also great to meet Mike Catsis, Chris Goodie (author of 'Jewels of the Forest') and Andy Mears, whilst we were based in Humaita.

The success of the trip was very much down to Brad Davis, owner of Agami Nature Tours. Being Canadian, he spoke perfect English, was very friendly, and one of the best guides I've come across; for a whole suite of reasons, his bird knowledge was immense!

Day 1 (27 May) - Arrival into Porto Velho

On the 26 May, I departed LHR late on and arrived on time into Sao Paulo. It was a tight connection to make the onward journey through to Porto Velho (Rondonia), not helped by the need to recover my luggage and checking it back in again, but I made it and all was well. Nick, Rich and Paul were already out in Brazil visiting Amazonia NP, a site that initally drew me to the trip, but limited annual leave denied that!

I got a cheap taxi to the hotel, settled down for a bit, then walked down to the Rio Madeira to see what I could. I purposely left my optics behind just in case it attracted any unwanted attention. I was pleased to see Black-collared Swallows, White-winged Swallows and a pair of Red-bellied Macaws for my efforts, whilst from my bedroom window, Silver-beaked Tanagers, a Short-crested Flycatcher and several Chestnut-bellied Seedeaters were viewable from the seventh floor. A huge male Green Iguana was a late surprise as it roosted.

male Green Iguana

Porto Velho - the capital of Rondonia

Day 2 (28 May) - Forest close to Porto Velho

It was an earlyish start for me (mega early for the others) as the other three and Brad arrived from Manaus before it got light. They met me at the hotel, and after a quick bite, we drove a short distance north to a forest patch. We walked a newly opened logging trail, which although is good for birding, it sadly means the end if nigh for this particular forest patch, although it will have a few years of freedom yet hopefully. 

The first few hours were highlighted by one of my main targets, the superb Hairy-crested Antbird! In tow were White-throated and Black Antbirds, whilst in the treetops, Yellow-throated Flycatchers, Paradise TanagersWhite-throated Toucans and Amazonian Pygmy Owls were seen. Bonaparte's Parakeets also kept us on our toes and eventually showed well.

Not a bad start at all and further additions came relatively thick and fast with Chestnut-winged Foliage-gleaner, Amazonian Barred Woodcreeper, White-fronted Nunbirds, Inambari Woodcreeper, Snethlage's Tody-tyrant and a small troop of Red-chested Tamarins (by far the highlight for me). 

After the trail, we then walked the road in the increasing heat, but scored well with a great view of a Western Striolated Puffbird, Short-tailed Pygmy Tyrant and a Fasciated Antshrike which refused to show poorly! 

After lunch back in Porto Velho, we again returned back across the river and worked a different track into a patch of white sand forest. This once flooded landscape, however many years ago, supports a number of specialist species, with white sand stretching all the way north into Guyana. Here though, hoped for targets seen comprised horrific views of a Humaita Antbird, a few Predicted Antwrens, several Campina Jays, a Fuscous Flycatcher and a Bluish-fronted Jacamar

Time was getting on and with a damp, bumpy track to negotiate, we headed back in the low light and back into Porto Velho where we stayed the night. 

Bonaparte's Parakeets

Amazonian Barred Woodcreeper

Snethlage's Tody Tyrant

Amazonian Pygmy Owl

Fasciated Antshrike

Bluish-fronted Jacamar

Campina Jay - discovered this century!

Day 3 (29 May) - Porto Velho to Tabajara

We started the morning off at the same location as we did yesterday, but this time concentrated along the road. Tings started brilliantly as a Crested Owl was heard, and then seen, as it responded well to playback. A Starred Wood Quail sang from the deep, as did several tinamous, so we walked the road to see what we could find. Despite hearing an Undulated Antshrike, it remained well and truly elusive, with Rich being the only one to see it clearly enough for a solid tick.

Further on, a duo of antbirds comprised both Sooty and White-throated (much to the relief of Rich), with the former showing brilliantly. A White-necked Puffbird, a small group of funky Curl-crested Aracaris and a Double-toothed Kite all showed well too, but perhaps the star of the morning were a small group of White-bellied Parrots; really cool looking and perhaps the highlight of the morning, especially as they showed far better than the overhead Dusky-headed Parakeets

On our return, a Scaled Woodpecker was watched feeding amongst the twigs of an overhang, and after watching a White-necked Thrush, a small mixed flock were located and included Rufous-bellied Euphonia, Paradise Tanager, a Peruvian Warbling Antbird and a Glossy Antshrike.

This pretty much rounded off our morning and we were soon ready to hit the road bound for Tabajara, which was roughly a five hour drive with a few highlights seen along the way... next blog post.

Crested Owl

female Sooty Antbird

White-bellied Parrots

Double-toothed Kite

a phone-scoped Curl-crested Aracari

Sunday, 8 May 2022

The Azores – Blue Whale

Last week, I was fortunate to be sent to the Azores (I in fact sent myself as it's my tour, but hey) for a spot of whale watching. It happened to be a superb week, and possibly the best week Naturetrek have had in this volcanic archipelago, with constant whale sightings comprising four species, including the ludicrous Blue Whale.

I would have been disappointed if my visit had not coincided with one of these ocean giants, but on one of the days an individual was always in view from the land, allowing a full morning and afternoon in the presence of a Blue as it fed throughout its stay.

This was our only sighting of a Blue Whale during the trip, but what an encounter and one that will be hard to beat.

Monday, 18 April 2022

Easter Weekend 2022

Certainly my favourite weekend of the year; four days off combined with freshly arrived migrants always bodes well. Despite being absent from the coast, it turns out this wasn't an issue as little was found over the four days. 

I only birded on the Saturday and Sunday, with the former mostly taken up with my Heathland Bird Survey on Stanley and Lynchmere Commons. It was great to see most of the species present (no Redstarts yet) with the highlight being a vocal Cuckoo and four displaying Tree Pipits. The abundance of Willow Warblers and my first pair of Dartford Warblers here were also welcome. 

Totals for the survey:

Cuckoo - 1
Tree Pipit - 4
Dartford Warbler - 2
Willow Warbler - 11
Firecrest - 12
Stock Dove - 6

On Sunday, with a south-easterly wind forecast, I oddly decided to hit Church Norton early knowing that all of the regulars would be at Selsey, potentially allowing me to find a goodie. Sadly this wasn't to be and it was frustratingly quiet. All I could muster were six Little Terns, a few Bar-tailed Godwits in the harbour, and whilst chilling at the car park, a Little Ringed Plover flew over calling. I left earlier than anticipated so I nipped into Ivy Lake and two Arctic Terns were briefly present before flying off high to the north (or Westhampnett).

On the way back to Alton, a stop at Noar Hill produced only one butterfly on the reserve itself, which thankfully was a fresh Duke of Burgundy!


Dartford Warbler

Willow Warbler

Tree Pipit

Speckled Wood at Ivy Lake

Arctic Tern at Ivy Lake

Duke of Burgundy

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

Splash Point – 12 April 2022

Another seawatch this morning that started slowly, but soon gathered pace as it wore on. The unexpected highlight was an inbound bat, which initially landed on the 'basket', then continued inland via a crash-landing into the cliff. I managed to get some shots but with my limited skills in identifying bats, this one remains a mystery for now.

A flock of 15 Eider were very impressive, but a close-in Pomarine Skua was a true delight as it casually sailed eastwards. 

Afterwards, I quickly nipped up High and Over as Dad had found a Whitethroat.

I'm back to birdless north Hampshire this evening. Thankfully my time in Sussex the last five days coincided with a nice arrival of migrants and some excellent seawatching.

Totals between 06:00 to 08:30

Common Scoter - 422
Mediterranean Gull - 11
Sandwich Tern - 229
Sanderling - 1
Red-breasted Merganser - 3
Red-throated Diver - 37
Black-throated Diver - 1
Brent Geese - 30
Arctic Skua - 11
Pomarine Skua - 1
Little Gull - 4
Arctic Tern - 1
Eider - 15
Shoveler - 10
Velvet Scoter - 4
Common Tern - 7
Shelduck - 3

Eider and Shoveler

Mediterranean Gulls

An un-identified bat, although
smaller than Noctule!

Whitethroat at High and Over

Monday, 11 April 2022

Splash Point – 11 April 2022

A superb day for seawatching for all concerned along the coast of Sussex. Unfortunately I only had limited hours today, but these thankfully coincided with some excellent movement, and then, two Pomarine Skuas at the end of the day. 

The highlight from this morning was a top drawer summer-plumaged Red-necked Grebe flying east close-in. Five Pochard were just as impressive (very rare on a seawatch) and three Garganey, a Little Ringed Plover (rare on a seawatch) and an early Arctic Tern, plus a continuous Sandwich Tern procession ensured a highly enjoyable seawatch!

Totals 05:50 to 09:30

Sandwich Tern - 458
Whimbrel - 20
Common Scoter - 483
Gadwall - 17
Common Tern - 12
Commic Tern - 28
Arctic Tern - 1
Teal - 82
Mediterranean Gull - 13
Red-breasted Merganser - 6
Shoveler - 69
Red-throated Diver - 7
Red-necked Grebe - 1
Pochard - 5
Arctic Skua - 12
Mallard - 5
Pintail - 3
Slavonian Grebe - 1 s/p offshore
Shelduck - 37
Garganey - 3
Sanderling - 4
Avocet - 3
Velvet Scoter - 20
Wigeon - 13
Little Gull - 6
Dunlin - 3
Little Ringed Plover- 1

Later this afternoon, it felt Pommy and low and behold as soon as I set myself up, a report of two Poms filtered through from Selsey.

16:00 to 17:45

Pomarine Skua - 2
Whimbrel - 83
Sandwich Tern - 75
Common Tern - 12
Arctic Skua - 4
Shoveler - 6
Teal - 4
Pintail - 7
Common Scoter - 37
Dunlin - 1
Sanderling - 2

Pomarine Skuas

Sunday, 10 April 2022

Seaford Head & Splash Point – 10/04/2022

After a lovely, but birdless, walk yesterday morning, today dawned warmer with light winds and it was with some relief that migrants had finally arrived. Albeit comprising only Wheatear and Willow Warbler, they were both in relative abundance, with 12 and 11 respectively. 

Afterwards, I drove over to Ovingdean to then spend most of the day watching the Brighton Marathon and a Wheatear flew across the road in Peacehaven, and then, above Ovingdean Beach, three more Wheatears were present. 

This afternoon with a south-easterly breeze blowing, I went down Splash Point between 3.30 and 5.30pm and recorded the following:

Arctic Skua - 2
Whimbrel - 28
Sandwich Tern - 19
Common Tern - 16
Red-throated Diver - 26
Common Scoter - 46
Bar-tailed Godwit - 4
Grey Plover - 2

Wheatears at Seaford Head

Sunday, 3 April 2022

Ecuador – Milpe & return to Quito

18th March 2022

I arrived into Milpe and grabbed a few supplies before heading for Milpe Bird Sanctuary. I didn't park in the main area as you had to pay a small fee so I drove a short distance to a lay-by and walked back. The place was devoid of anyone so it wouldn't have been an issue. Anyway, it was clear from the off that this area was excellent for birding. I was pleased to see more Choco Toucans and some Collared Aracaris. In the car park, and as I was watching these two species, chaos unfolded as a sublime Ornate Hawk-eagle flew in and landed in plain sight and stayed for about five minutes. An amazing encounter and certainly a highlight of the trip!

After this excitement, it was just a matter of filtering through the tanager flocks, but no new additions here. Just as I was starting to enjoy myself, a lengthy rain shower arrived so I decided to drive back into Los Bancos and find my very nice, and cheap, hotel. I had two days to cover Milpe so it wasn't a hard to decision to stay dry. The rain continued to late afternoon so I called it a day and had another relaxation session, but after an ultimate day, I think it was deserved. 

The next morning I arrived at first light and decided to park in the car park this time. I took the long circuit which takes you all the way down to the river – part of this trail involved a pure balancing act over a slippery log above a mini canyon... certainly the most adrenaline-fueled moment of the trip. The walk however was excellent with a wealth of new birds seen and some class ones at that.

The hummingbird feeders attracted a few new ones, with White-whiskered Hermit, Green Thorntail and Crowned Woodnymth, while on the trail a White-tipped Sicklebill hovered around my head as I encroached its presumed territory... amazing moment! The trail was alive with birds and at times it was hard to know where to look, there were either flocks high above, myriad woodcreeper/foliage-gleaner flocks, or the odd antwren which are always a joy to see. The trail kept descending and eventually I reached the river and spent a lengthy time here chilling and watching the world go by. It was a stunning place and with no-one around it was even more special. 

Anyway, afterwards I hiked back up on a different section and this time I put more effort in going through certain recordings of birds I still needed to see. One bird in a dense valley was giving off a lovely song, and I just happened to have Esmeraldas Antbird on my phone ready to hit play, and by jingo, it was the bird! It wasn't long before this cracker came in close, and as antbirds are always in mixed flocks, further psshing resulted in a superb Zeledon's Antbird too.

The walk sadly came to an end, so I quickly headed back to Luis and picked up my number plate (ten dollars for the privilege of some dude holding onto it for me!), but along the way were two Hook-billed Kites and a Laughing Falcon.

Upon returning to Milpe, I again parked up and this time walked the upper trail to the northern car park. It was excellent but rain showers had me scarpering a few times. I assume the rain had prompted several Speckled Nightingale-thrush to sing and one fortunately showed well. Tanager flocks held some Dusky-capped Flycatchers and Sooty-headed Tyrannulets amongst many other species, and when the rain absolutely lashed down, I had thankfully arrived at the northern headquarters, and being sheltered, I put my feet up and watched the hummingbirds only metres away! A Tayra also came in for some seed that two Orange-billed Sparrows were munching on. That was about it for today and I walked back to the car via the road and got soaked for it.

This unbeknown to me at the time was to be my last effort of birding, as sadly that night, I stupidly had a chinese meal and some re-heated rice caused a major night of chucking up. This meant the next day I was absolutely out of it. I did attempt Milpe, but all I succeeded in was getting a flat tyre, and fixing it nearly made me faint two or three times. I did eventually get it sorted but gave up on birding and decided to return to Quito early. 

However, I had fortuitously looked on e-bird during my spell of non-vomiting and found a semi-reliable location on the return for Torrent Duck. This was at Alambi Lodge and after a refreshment stop and a blackberry smoothie, I arrived but felt proper grim. I had a nap and felt better so I drove down to the lodge and asked whether I could go for a walk. The owner was brilliant and very accommodating and after paying a small fee I was trundling down to the river. I looked upstream and nothing, looked downstream, and balancing on a rock amongst the white-water rapids, was a stunning drake Torrent Duck! I suddenly felt on top of the world and I enjoyed half-hour with a pair of these incredible ducks; watching them swimming in the rapids was mind-blowing and they came so close to me... I couldn't have asked for better views. I walked a short way downstream but failed on finding any dippers, so I returned to the lodge and spent an hour at the hummingbird feeders, with new birds here including the following: Purple-throated Woodstar, White-lined Tanager, Thick-billed Euphonia, Rufous Motmot, Black-capped Tanager and Western Emerald. A young lad there even made me a coffee and this was my final bit of birding of the trip.

So, other than a few Tropical Mockingbirds and a Vermilion Flycatcher on the way to the Holiday Inn at Quito Airport, there was no more birding to be had. I just needed some rest and recovery before my long flight back. It had obviously been an amazing first visit to Ecuador and I can't wait to go back and do the east slope and the south. 

My flight back the next day went via Panama, which resulted in me seeing a Magnificent Frigatebird on the final descent and some Greater Antillean Grackles around the terminal. 

Milpe Highlights:

White-whiskered Hermit - 3
White-tipped Sicklebill - 1
Green-crowned Brilliant - 5
Ruddy Pigeon - 1
Hook-billed Kite - 2
Ornate Hawk-eagle - 1
Laughing Falcon - 1
Smoky-brown Woodpecker - 1
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper - 1
Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner - 5
Spotted Barbtail - 1
Slaty Antwren - 4
Zeledon's Antbird - 1
Esmeraldas Antbird - 1
Sooty-headed Tyrannulet - 4
Dusky-capped Fluycatcher - 3
Club-winged Manakin - 2
Bay Wren - 2
Orange-billed Sparrow - 2

Collared Aracari

Choco Toucan

Ornate Hawk-eagle

Club-winged Manakin

Golden-winged Manakin

Slaty Antwren

Crowned Woodnymth

Green-crowned Brilliant

Hook-billed Kite

Laughing Falcon

Speckled Nightingale-thrush

Spotted Barbtail

White-whiskered Hermit

Torrent Duck

Rhodirphia carminata

Milpe Bird Sanctuary... I wonder
if a Banded Ground-cuckoo is in that view

Breakfast stop at Milpe

It wouldn't be an Eade tour without...

River Alambi