Rondonia Bushbird, Brazil - June 2022

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Thursday, 11 August 2022

Brazil (Part 2) – Tabajara

Although a little late, this post is the second of four from my June trip to Brazil with Richard Fairbank, Nick Preston and Paul Noakes. 

During the afternoon of 29 May, we started the five-hour journey to Tabajara. All along the way were extensive cultivations and cattle ranches; once pristine rainforest, the horizon was now sparsely scattered in Brazil Nut Trees as these are apparently 'illegal' to cut down.

Noteworthy species were few and far between along the journey, but as we approached some untouched forest on our left (cultivations on our right), a Dark-winged Trumpeter was sat on the roadside! This incredible moment seemed to go in slow motion as the trumpeter wasn't sure what to do and just casually walked along the verge before eventually sneaking into the forest. Later on as we were approaching Tabajara, a Toco Toucan flew behind the vehicle.

With still an hour of daylight left when we arrived into the small village of Tabajara, we went down to the river to enjoy a decent haul of birds. Black-collared, White-banded and White-winged Swallows were abundant and a few Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns flew upriver. Several other good birds were seen with Sand-coloured Nighthawks, a Glittering-throated Emerald, a Drab Water Tyrant, a Grey-chested Greenlet, hundreds of Yellow-rumped Caciques and an Amazonian Tyrannulet. A Cuvier's Dwarf Caiman was even close the bank!

A great start to this area and we went to our very adequate 'hotel' on the outskirts of the village, and had dinner soon after at a lady's house, which even had Wi-Fi! 

Cuvier's Dwarf Caiman

Grey-chested Greenlet

Saturday 30th May

As per the norm, we were up nice and early, this time with the song of a Tropical Screech Owl not too far away. After breakfast, we drove to an area of white sand forest only ten minutes outside Tabajara. Before entering decent forest, we birded the white sand area and saw our two key targets, these being Chico's Tyrannulet and Buff-cheeked Tody Tyrant. A Pale-bellied Mourner, Plain-crowned Eleania, a party of Plush-crested Jays and some Yellow-crowned Parrots also flew over. 

The rest of the morning and first three hours of the afternoon were then spent in some excellent forest with new bird after new bird soon to make it into my notebook. It was of course quiet at times, but for the most part there was always something to have gotten over seeing. The obvious avian highlight for me were a pair of Collared Puffbirds – a bird I've been long wanting to see ever since Richard first told me about his first sighting where ever in South America that was. They did not disappoint one bit! 

Other avian highlights throughout the forest were Spot-backed Antbird (another top favourite), Pavonine Quetzal, Black-girdled Barbets, an Amazonian Grosbeak, Saturnine Antshrikes, Rondonia Warbling Antbird, Rufous-faced Antbird and Chestnut-tailed Antbird. Antbirds were very much a theme of the holiday and the superb White-breasted Antbird proved to be a stunner today and much sought-after, although fist pumps were out of the question initially as Richard failed to see them, but a tense and patient wait finally put that right. 

Canopy flocks were typically hard graft and thankfully didn't contain anything too serious which meant our time was devoted to the ground-dwelling species, although the likes of Flame-crested Tanagers, Sepia-capped Flycatchers, White-winged Shrike-tanagers, Buff-cheeked Greenlets and Chivi Vireos were a handful of the species noted.

This patch of forest, though, may well be most remembered for its incredible diversity of primates. Five species, including the remarkable Tapajos Saki Monkey were seen (this species being the wooly mammoth of the treetops), plus the cute Black-tailed Marmosets, Saddle-backed Tamarins, Black Spider Monkeys and Dusky Titi Monkeys, too. A number of dragonflies were also keeping me entertained during the quieter times of day.

We finally arrived back at the vehicle mid-afternoon with two search parties trying to find us as were meant to have had lunch at the 'restaurant', but with good birding and temperatures that we could cope with, there was no point in abandoning such decent habitat. The final paces of the walk were enlivened by the arrival of a huge thunderstorm with birds seen before the deluge included Black Caracaras, a Short-billed Honeycreeper, a Squirrel Cuckoo and Pale-rumped Swifts.

With a few hours left of the day, we tracked further west into a good expanse of forest, though still housing logging trails. A superb and huge Red-tailed Boa was in the dirt track and we managed some photos before it slithered off. At a small lake, many Brazilian Teal and a few Muscovy were present, and we walked into the forest and came across a canopy flock which held a Yellow-margined Flycatcher, Chestnut-winged Hookbill and many species we saw this morning. The highlight here though was when we exited the forest as a clan of Crab-eating Foxes trotted past, paused for a photo, and continued on their way... this really had been a day for mammals!

Our last stop was a little further along by a bridge where a Hauxwell's Thrush and a superb Short-tailed Nighthawk was flying around. During the 30-minute drive back to the hotel I hung out of the window and enjoyed the various spot-lighting going on from inside the car, providing me with decent views of many Pauraque and fewer Blackish Nightjars.

Chico's Tyrannulet

Buff-cheeked Tody Flycatcher

Saddle-backed Tamarin

Saturnine Antshrike

Collared Puffbird

Tapajos Saki Monkey

Spot-backed Antbird

Dusky Titi Monkey

Black-tailed Marmoset

Red-tailed Boa

Crab-eating Fox

Sunday 31st May

Up nice and early... again... as we were today to head upriver to a remote area of forest close to the Marmelo Stream, where during the day we birded the west and east bank, both being in my eyes very productive, especially the afternoon session.

On the boat journey upriver, there were plenty of Sand-coloured Nighthawks, Pied Lapwings, Large Billed Terns and a few Black Skimmers and when we turned off onto the stream section where the waters were more tranquil and canopy at times stretched across the entirety, the thermal imagers came into action and this time revealed the presence of two Razor-billed Currasows on the bank before they walked off. A few Green Ibis caused minor panic and some stunning Capped Herons also showed well. 

We arrived at the start of the trail and hiked into the forest from here. Almost from the off, one of our main targets landed in the trees above us, these being the large and recently discovered Kawall's Parrot, with at least six birds present. We continued through the forest along a narrow trail and ticked off the following in quick succession: Manicore Warbling Antbird, Pearly Antshrike, Mouse-coloured Antshrike, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher and the awesome White-crested Spadebill. There were two species of antwren here which were sought-after and we scored both with much neck-wrenching efforts, the Sclater's Antwren and Aripuana Antwren, the former an attractive species with all yellow underparts. The main highlight for me upon returning was a superb Rufous-capped Ant-thrush

We had lunch back at the boats where lots of sttractive butterflies were enjoying the sweat-infested clothing about the place. During the afternoon session on the opposite side of the stream, we had a very productive session without even walking too far. Perhaps coming across three mid to high-canopy flocks, we were always looking up and trying hard to keep stock of what we saw, but notable birds amongst the throng were Tooth-billed Wren, Curve-billed Scythebill, Black-eared Fairy, Amazonian Trogon, Bar-breasted Piculet, Red-stained Woodpecker, White-chinned Woodcreeper, Pink-throated Becard and Brown-winged Schiffornis... so it was a busy couple of hours for us! 

Our short walk had sadly come to an end so we picked up our ant-infested bags and marched back towards the boat, admiring only a Cream-coloured Woodpecker along the way - a species I was delighted to claw back having missed it in Guyana. 

Back at the boat, we got lucky with a Zimmer's Tody Tyrant coming into the tape, although it wasn't the most inspiring bird out there.

It had been a great day which ended with a cruise up and down the stream and back down to Tabajara. A delightful Sungrebe remained distant and a Grey-cowled Wood Rail performed briefly on the bank. A family of Capybara on the return, as well as many terns, skimmers and parrots set for a delightful final hour of daylight.

Capped Heron

Kawall's Parrot

Pearly Antshrike

Black-faced Antbird

Manicore Warbling Antbird

Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher


Monday 1st June

Our final morning in the Tabajara region, which was a shame as it had been a highly productive region for a sort of rare birds, as well as the spectacular diversity of mammals. For our final morning, we headed back to the same patch of forest we had visited on Saturday. 

Upon arrival, we this time headed straight for the forest, stopping along the way for a Little Nightjar roosting in the sand. An Undulated Tinamou was singing in the early morning gloom, and unlike others, not too far from the path, so we staked it out. I laid on the floor, whilst others set about using the helpful thermal cameras, but all were to no avail. Brad ventured into the forest from an angle to tempt it our way, and with the bird still vocal, a few of us obtained some respectable views of this cryptic master... an excellent start to the day!

We wasted no time in heading through the forest until we had heard some antbirds, hopefully attending an ant swarm. This duly happened, but much surprise to Brad, he thought he had heard a Pale-faced Bare-eye (a mega antbird species restricted to SW Amazon and rarely recorded). I got the first glimpses and half-heartedly confirmed Brad's suspicions, but it wasn't until we headed into some dense forest and played the tape that the views improved massively, and after a tense wait, all had glimpsed or had prolonged views of this, what others had described as, a 'trip bird'. We then proceeded to watch these antbirds, as well as White-breasted, Scale-backed and White-throated Antbirds feeding upon an ant swarm, which was impressive. A few woodcreepers were also snacking on the tree-climbing ants. 

Time had whizzed past and it was time to depart Tabajara, via lunch and a shower, back to Porto Velho where we stayed the night. The 5-hour journey was quiet for birding but was a quiet reminder to the destruction of the lands here.

Pale-faced Bare-eye

Scale-backed Antbird

Squirrel Monkey

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Kelp (Cape) Gull: Grafham Water, Cambridgeshire; 7th August 2022

What was meant to be a relaxing day at the seaside, actually turned into a day of slight compromise to allow me to go and twitch the Cape Gull at Grafham Water – a first for Britain no less! I arrived at around 5pm and enjoyed excellent views of this subtly striking gull, a species which I've seen plentiful times in trips to South Africa and Namibia. 

Cape Gull at Grafham Water

Saturday, 9 July 2022

Bempton Cliffs RSPB, Yorkshire – Saturday 9th July

Finally a break from work, trips and whatever else, enabled myself and Ian to head up to Bempton Cliffs for the long-staying Black-browed Albatross and the recently-arrived Red-tailed Shrike.

We started off at Staple Newk Viewpoint after a 5-hour drive through the night. After a short wait, the albatross started circling just below us affording excellent views. Puffins and the usual auks were also present and the sounds and smells of the thriving seabird colony were in full flow!

Next up was a lengthy walk around the various tracks and farms in order to try and find the Red-tailed Shrike. Being an adult in spring plumage means this Isabelline Shrike can be proven to be a Red-tailed (or Turkestan) and was therefore very enticing to see since its arrival last week. Despite no news, we found several birders looking at the bird (frustratingly only 200m away from Staple Newk) and we enjoyed close scope views of this attractive bird.

Other bits before we drove home at 10am were many Tree Sparrows and a few Yellow Wagtails.

Black-browed Albatross

Red-tailed Shrike

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