Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Highlights from Chapada dos Guimarães National Park

I’m currently in the middle of five back-to-back tours, so I’m a bit behind in blogging, struggling just to keep up with post-tour duties. My Marvelous Mato Grosso tour finished up on July 5 already, and I did make three posts from there during or the tour. But I’ve finished the summary for the tour participants thought I could use that as template for a more detailed series of blogs.

It’s impossible to pick just a few favorites out of about 560 birds seen and heard in just under three weeks, and I could write an epic-length book about all the amazing things we saw in Mato Grosso and at Iguazú. Each day I had my participants choose a favorite bird, and these formed the skeleton around which I built the tour’s narrative summary. But one bird did stand out as a top for the tour, and that was our Harpy Eagle. On our fourth day at Cristalino we had spent the morning boating upriver, seeing several nice things, and then did the whole Castanheiras loop (the trail named after the giant Brazil Nut trees along it). We were almost back to the boat at about 11:00 a.m. when I heard a boat zooming upriver and then stop near ours. Diego, one of the lodge’s guides and boatmen came running up the trail and said “Harpia!” I then said to my group, “Run!” To make a long story short, we got there about 20 minutes later, just in time to watch the bird on its riverside perch for about one minute before it flew over the river and off into the forest. It had been there for over 45 minutes, which is longer than we could have expected. Diego had left Jorge there on the opposite bank that whole time, and he occasionally waived his hands as a decoy to keep the bird’s attention. What made this bird even more amazing is that it came only three days after we had seen a Crested Eagle – seeing one of these two rarities on a tour is super lucky, but seeing both is plain ridiculous. I got only a couple usable shots of the Harpy Eagle before it took off.

So to back up a bit and mention the daily favorites, we began our birding in earnest in the afternoon of our first day with a stroll to the short canopy tower at our lodge in the middle of Chapada dos Guimarães National Park. A flurry of activity on the way was highlighted by a Pale-bellied Tyrant-Manakin and a Sepia-capped Flycatcher, while we had our first taste of the real tropics at the tower with perched Channel-billed Toucans in the distant canopy trees. It had been a warm, sunny day, and butterfly activity was high, especially in the flowers by the lodge. We had several of these Actinote sp. (Heliconius longwing relatives in the tribe Acraeini). The taxonomy of this genus has been very confused, and though there have been some recent papers that reassigned some subspecies, described some new species, and clarified some populations, this area wasn’t part of the study, and my photos don’t match any of the known ones perfectly. That the website butterfliesofamerica.com hasn’t used any of those papers’ findings in it’s list makes it even harder to identify the ones we saw.

We spent the next morning on the Geladeira road in some sandy cerrado habitat where a Pale-breasted Spinetail perched out in the open.

Our only White-vented Violetear came in to my pygmy-owl imitations.

A Planalto Slaty-Antshrike responded to the mob as well.

A Helmeted Manakin surprised us in the scrubby habitat, and a pair of Coal-crested Finches perched up nicely, if only briefly (too brief for photos). We then had another, even closer Helmeted Manakin back near our lodge.

And then on a hike to the small pond on the lodge grounds we had a pair of adorable Brown Jacamars and a family group of Least Grebes.

Our first, furtive Yellow-tufted Woodpecker in distant trees while a stunning male Band-tailed Manakin came into a mob and a male Flame-crested Tanager, scarce in the area, was very territorial but seldom perched on any open branch for long; we eventually had good looks in the spotting scope. On our night walk we had an amazing very close Common Pauraque encounter, followed by an altercation among two or more Scissor-tailed Nightjars right over the road.

On our second day a cold front suddenly arrived, and a beautiful sunny morning became completely fogged in by noon.

We continued to look for birds anyway. On our way down the Aroe Jari caverns road, we saw our only Red-legged Seriema on the tour.

A Burrowing Owl was alongside the road; the ones here are a different subspecies than those in North America.

But bird activity was very low in the increasing fog and dropping temperatures, so we did some botanizing. This is Eschweilera nana, in the Lecythidaceae, the same family as the giant Brazil Nut.

This is Davilla elliptica, in the family Dilleniaceae, in its own order Dilleniales, a group I know nothing about, other than that it was once thought to be related to peonies (but genetics dispelled that theory).

Confusingly similar is this Cochlospermum regium, in the family Bixaceae (along with annatto), which is related to the mallows.

I always stop to take photos of Passiflora mansoi when I’m here; it’s a very odd passionflower, growing as a spindly shrub rather than a vine, and though it’s quite common here, very few are ever in flower at once.

Our last morning it was still quite foggy and cold (about 52°F), so bird activity was still low. And our views of the Véu de Noiva waterfall wasn’t so great either.

But one of the most amazing finds on the tour as far as I’m concerned was this tiny metalmark that brushed off the wet trees overhanging the dirt road to our lodge and was deposited on the wet windshield. I first got a photo from inside the van.

It stayed long enough for me to get a photo from the outside. It looks most like Syrmatia nyx, the Spotted Tailwing, though specimens confirmed to be that species (on butterfliesofamerica.com) have a red dot at the base of the forewing and a white dash at the base of the hindwing. Butterflies in this genus are hardly ever observed in nature, and nothing is known about their natural history, and it’s possible that there are several species still undescribed.

We left the Chapada with busy mixed mob of birds that included our only Green-winged Saltator.

We had our best views of a Burnished-buff Tanager here as well.

White-lined Tanager was part of the mix.

The birds were in the roadside vegetation below us, giving us unusually good views, such as this Masked Gnatcatcher.

This Red-crested Finch was particularly excited; they don’t often have their crest raised like this.

For me the, the most interesting bird was this milky white leucistic Rufous-collared Sparrow.

In the afternoon we flew to Alta Floresta and via van ride and boat ride arrived at 

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