BRAZIL’S PANTANAL & MATO GROSSO BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Brazil’s Pantanal & Mato Grosso: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Cuiabá, the capital of the state of Mato Grosso. From there we have a relatively short drive to the Chapada dos Guimarães where we will stay overnight. We will spend the rest of the day exploring the Chapada.
(If you find it easier, we will be pleased to arrange your internal flight to Cuiabá to your arrival city in Brazil, even if you are arranging your own international tickets.)
Situated at the western edge of the Planalto do Mato Grosso, the canyonlands of the Chapada dos Guimarães offer excellent birding amidst spectacular scenery. Impressive waterfalls plunge over sheer sandstone cliffs which rise out of riparian forests and cerrado. The scarce, near-endemic Biscutate Swift and the impressive Great Dusky Swift nest in the safety of these cliffs, which also provide a secure roosting site for several members of the parrot family. The most common psittacid species here is the White-eyed Parakeet, but we can also expect spectacular Blue-weinged and Red-and-green Macaws.
In a stretch of wild cerrado, we will search for such specialities as the lovely Collared Crescentchest, Chapada Flycatcher, White-rumped and White-banded Tanagers, the marvellous Coal-crested Finch and Black-throated Saltator, while a wooded valley often holds Planalto Hermit, Planalto Woodcreeper, Western Fire-eye, Planalto Tyrannulet, Curl-crested Jay and Pectoral Sparrow.
With a bit of luck, we will find the rare, near-endemic Rufous-sided Pygmy Tyrant, an inhabitant of untouched open cerrado and there are also chances for the magnificent but uncommon Pheasant and Pavonine Cuckoos and Caatinga Puffbird. If we are really lucky we will see the rare, near-endemic Yellow-faced Parrot.
More widespread species include Tataupa and Small-billed Tinamous, the elegant White Hawk, Tropical Screech Owl, White-vented Violetear, White-eared Puffbird, Lettered Aracari, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Yellow-bellied, Plain-crested and Lesser Elaenias, Suiriri, Sepia-capped, Southern Scrub and Cliff Flycatchers, Band-tailed Manakin, Blue-and-white Swallow, Tropical Parula, White-shouldered and Shrike-like (or White-lined) Tanagers, and Red Pileated Finch.
Widespread but uncommon or hard-to-see possibilities include Russet-crowned Crake (far more likely to be heard than seen), Long-billed Starthroat and Southern Antpipit.
Brazil’s Pantanal & Mato Grosso: Day 2 After spending much of the day in the Chapada dos Guimarães we will return to Cuiabá for an overnight stay.
Brazil’s Pantanal & Mato Grosso: Day 3 We will head off this morning for Vila Bela da Santissima Trindade (yes the name takes as long to say as it takes to drive through town, well almost!). We will spend two nights in this little town situated close to the Bolivian border.
Brazil’s Pantanal & Mato Grosso: Day 4 The habitats in this remote part of Brazil are a mixture of Pantanal-like marshes and grasslands, agriculture and tracts of rather sub-Amazonian rainforest.
Today we will look for two very special near-endemics, the superb Double-collared Crescentchest and the attractive Black-and-tawny Seedeater. Fortunately, these two mega-specialities, seen on no other bird tour, are pretty easy to find.
Another very special bird that we have a fair chance of finding in the surrounding area is the fast-declining (owing to trapping) Great-billed Seed Finch. We should also encounter the superb Horned Sungem and Bolivian Slaty Antshrike.
Other species that we are likely to encounter in this bird-rich but rarely-visited part of Brazil include Greater Rhea, Undulated and Red-winged Tinamous, Horned Screamer, White-faced and Black-faced Whistling Ducks, Muscovy Duck, White-tailed Goldenthroat, Black-throated Mango, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, the zany Guira Cuckoo, Greater and Smooth-billed Anis, Picazuro and Pale-vented Pigeons, Ruddy Ground Dove, Southern Lapwing, Wattled Jacana, Buff-necked and Bare-faced Ibises, Striated and Cocoi Herons, Western Cattle, Great and Snowy Egrets, the prehistoric-looking, swamp-dwelling Hoatzin, Black, Turkey and Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, Swallow-tailed Kite, the handsome Long-winged Harrier, Snail Kite, Savanna, Grey-lined and Roadside Hawks, the cute Burrowing Owl, the huge Toco Toucan (the classic toucan of the Guinness adverts), Yellow-tufted, Little, Crimson-crested and Lineated Woodpeckers, Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Aplomado Falcon, Yellow-chevroned, Peach-fronted and White-eyed Parakeets, Orange-winged Amazon, Red-bellied, Red-and-green and Red-shouldered Macaws and the glorious Blue-and-yellow Macaw.
Likely passerines include Straight-billed Woodcreeper, Rufous Hornero, Greater Thornbird, Rusty-backed and Yellow-chinned Spinetails, Rusty-backed Antwren, Amazonian Antshrike, Short-tailed Pygmy Tyrant, Grey and White-rumped Monjitas, Cattle Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, White-throated and Tropical Kingbirds, Short-crested Flycatcher, Black-tailed Tityra, Purplish Jay, Grey-breasted Martin, Black-capped Donacobius, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Grassland Sparrow, White-browed, Chopi and Unicolored Blackbirds, Crested Oropendola, Greyish Saltator, Blue-black Grassquit, Silver-beaked Tanager, Chestnut-bellied Seed Finch, Rusty-collared Seedeater, Saffron Finch and Black-faced, Palm and Masked Tanagers.
Brazil’s Pantanal & Mato Grosso: Day 5 After some early morning birding near Vila Bela da Santissima Trindade if need be, we will travel northwards to the small town of Pimenteiras do Oeste for a two nights stay. (Alright, we have to confess that Pimenteiras do Oeste is just over the border in Rondônia state, but the habitats and avifauna here are different from the far-away parts of Rondônia we explore on our Brazil’s Southwest Amazonia tour!)
Brazil’s Pantanal & Mato Grosso: Day 6 Pimenteiras do Oeste is situated on the north bank of the wide Rio Guaporé. The river forms the boundary between Brazil and Bolivia, but as the other shore is uninhabited apart from a couple of park rangers at a remote ranger station in Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, we may make an impromptu landing in Bolivia during our river trip!
We will set off this morning by boat in search of our main quarry, the extremely range-restricted Rusty-necked Piculet, a species that occupies just a tiny range in southwest Brazil and adjacent northeast Bolivia! This species is not uncommon in the riverside forest, so we should not have much trouble finding one.
Other good birds include Red-throated Piping Guan, Razor-billed Curassow (uncommon), Crimson-bellied and Santarem Parakeets, Dusky-capped Woodcreeper, White-lored Spinetail, Rondonia Warbling Antbird, Snow-capped Manakin and Fawn-breasted Wren.
Additional new birds that we are likely to come across include Southern Screamer, Brazilian Teal, Pauraque, White-collared and Chapman’s Swifts, Great-billed Hermit, White-chinned Sapphire, Little and Squirrel Cuckoos, Scaled and Ruddy Pigeons, Plain-breasted Ground Dove (uncommon), Anhinga, Neotropic Cormorant, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Capped Heron, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Great Black Hawk, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Green-backed Trogon, Amazon and Ringed Kingfishers, Brown, Bronzy and Rufous-tailed Jacamars, Spotted and Swallow-winged Puffbirds, Black-fronted Nunbird, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Bar-breasted Piculet, Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Yellow-headed Caracara, Yellow-crowned Amazon and Chestnut-fronted Macaw.
Passerines include Wedge-billed, Elegant and Buff-throated Woodcreepers, Amazonian Streaked and White-flanked Antwrens, Spot-winged and Barred Antshrikes, Black-throated, Blackish and Silvered Antbirds, White-lored Tyrannulet, Snethlage’s and Zimmer’s Tody-Tyrants, Zimmer’s Flatbill, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Cinnamon Attila, Black Manakin, Ashy-headed Greenlet, White-winged and Southern Rough-winged Swallows, Moustached Wren, Thick-billed and Purple-throated Euphonias, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Shiny Cowbird, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Blue Dacnis, Red-capped Cardinal, Yellow-backed, Blue-grey and Turquoise Tanagers, and Plumbeous Seedeater.
Brazil’s Pantanal & Mato Grosso: Day 7 Today we will have a long travel day as we head eastwards into more characteristic Amazonian rainforest habitats mixed with agricultural areas. Our destination is the remote Jardim da Amazônia lodge, where we will spend the next three nights.
Brazil’s Pantanal & Mato Grosso: Days 8-9 Pousada Jardim da Amazônia sits in the heart of a large private reserve consisting of Amazonian rainforest cut by a large river and includes several oxbow lakes. Although situated at the southern edge of the vast Amazonian basin, it is rich in birdlife.
The star attraction here is the rare, unusual-looking and quite probably endangered Cone-billed Tanager. A small population is to be found in swampy woodland in the reserve and we shall of course be giving this species our priority. It can take a bit of finding, but we have a very high chance of success.
Another enjoyable attraction of the area is the lek of Amazonian Umbrellabirds which takes place almost every afternoon in a tall forest tree beside the river. Birders have even been known to drink beer while enjoying the spectacle without making any effort from a boat. Shocking!
Nightbirding is worthwhile at this location and in particular, this is a good locality for getting views of the often secretive Ocellated Poorwill. Other nightbirds we should see include Tawny-bellied Screech Owl and Blackish Nightjar (the latter at a daytime roost), while the beautiful Long-tailed Potoo is a real possibility.
We will have our first chance for the secretive but wonderful little Zigzag Heron during our stay.
Among the many other species that we are likely to record during our visit are Grey, Cinereous, Little and Brazilian Tinamous (as almost always with tinamous, they are much more likely to be heard than seen), Spix’s Guan, Short-tailed Swift, Neotropical Palm Swift, Reddish Hermit, Grey-fronted Dove, Slaty-breasted Wood Rail, Green Ibis, King Vulture, Double-toothed Kite, Black-tailed and Amazonian Trogons, Green Kingfisher, Amazonian Motmot, Blue-necked Jacamar, Rufous-capped Nunlet, White-fronted Nunbird, Black-girdled Barbet, Red-necked Aracari, Gould’s Toucanet, Channel-billed Toucan, Red-stained, Ringed and Red-necked Woodpeckers, Laughing Falcon, Blue-headed and Orange-cheeked Parrots, and Southern Mealy Amazon.
Among the likely passerines are Uniform Woodcreeper, Point-tailed Palmcreeper, Dot-winged, Sclater’s, Southern White-fringed and Rufous-winged Antwrens, Cinereous, White-shouldered and Plain-winged Antshrikes, Southern Chestnut-tailed, Grey, Band-tailed, Spot-backed, Dot-backed and Rufous-faced Antbirds, Yellow-crowned and Mouse-colored Tyrannulets, Forest Elaenia, Ochre-bellied, Sulphury and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Rufous-tailed Flatbill, Screaming Piha, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Pompadour Cotinga, Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin, Flame-crested and Red-headed Manakins, Brown-winged Schiffornis, White-browed Purpletuft, Pink-throated Becard, Chivi Vireo, Grey-chested Greenlet, the handsome White-banded Swallow, Thrush-like and Buff-breasted Wrens, Chattering Gnatwren, Rufous-bellied Euphonia, Red-rumped Cacique, Southern Yellowthroat, Green, Purple and Short-billed Honeycreepers, Swallow, Magpie, Flame-crested, Blue-necked, Paradise and Bay-headed Tanagers, Yellow-bellied and Black-faced Dacnises, Buff-throated Saltator and Bananaquit.
Uncommon or hard-to-see species include Barred Forest Falcon, Rufous-tailed Xenops, Fasciated Antshrike and Dotted Tanager. Antswarms are getting harder to find as the Amazon dries out, probably owing to massive deforestation, but if we find one we will be hoping for such treats as Black-spotted Bare-eye, Western Fire-eye and Xingu Scale-backed Antbird.
Mammals are not conspicuous but we may well encounter Bearded Capuchin, the strange Proboscis Bat (roosting on the bark of a riverside tree) and quite possibly Brazilian (or Lowland) Tapir.
Brazil’s Pantanal & Mato Grosso: Day 10 After a last morning at Jardim da Amazônia and lunch at the lodge we will return to Cuiabá for an overnight stay.
Brazil’s Pantanal & Mato Grosso: Day 11 This morning we will drive deep into the Pantanal for a four nights stay (spending the first and last nights in the Pixaim area to the south of Poconé and the middle two nights at Porto Jofre at the end of the Transpantaneira).
As we drive through this splendid area we will not be able to resist stopping as we come across one exciting new bird after another, never mind the hordes of caimans. During the afternoon we will explore the large property on which our lodge is situated.
Brazil’s Pantanal & Mato Grosso: Days 12-14 The Pantanal of Brazil needs little introduction for it is undoubtedly one of the most famous wetlands in the Americas. This seasonally flooded grassland close to the Bolivian border is one of the largest marshes on the face of the globe and lies along the upper and middle course of the Paraná River. We will visit the northern fringe of this huge expanse of marsh, where numbers of waterfowl are impressive and where a varied avifauna definitely makes for a rich experience.
We will spend most of our time along the famous Transpantaneira, a dirt road with more than a hundred, often rather dilapidated bridges, that runs through a variety of habitats including pastures, palm groves, gallery woodland, scrubby growth, meandering rivers, ponds and extensive flooded marshes. We will drive to within metres of the gigantic nests of the huge and grotesque Jabiru, which seem to balance precariously on the crowns of the scattered trees. The weird haunting cries of Southern Screamers and the bugling calls of Red-legged Seriemas are common early morning sounds as numerous herons, egrets and ibises fly in to throng the marshes. Pairs of reclusive Plumbeous Ibises feed in the shallows, away from the more boisterous species. A boat trip along a quiet stretch of a river should reveal the beautiful Agami Heron and the secretive Zigzag Heron.
The variety of waterbirds in the Pantanal is spectacular and new species for the tour should include Whistling and Little Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night Heron, the bizarre Boat-billed Heron, the unlikely-looking Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, Gray-cowled Wood Rail, Purple and Common Gallinules, Limpkin, the strange Sungrebe, the spectacular Sunbittern, Collared and Pied Plovers, Black-necked Stilt, Solitary Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, Black Skimmer and Green-and-rufous and American Pygmy Kingfishers.
Raptors are very well represented and include Western Osprey (seasonally present), Plumbeous Kite, Crane and Black-collared Hawks, and Bat Falcon.
Away from the water, birdlife abounds in the scattered patches of gallery forest and in the distinctive savanna habitat, called cerrado, which is so characteristic of this part of Brazil. These palm-rich forests are the stronghold of the world’s largest parrot, the spectacular Hyacinth Macaw. As we watch these huge birds flapping lazily towards their roosting trees, their rich purplish-blue feathers glow in the last rays of the setting sun. The world population of this fantastic creature, which surely epitomizes the wildness and uniqueness of the Pantanal, is now sadly reduced to just a few thousand birds, due to trapping for the cagebird trade. Here we should also find two splendid cracids: the patchily-distributed endemic Chestnut-bellied Guan and the impressive and not uncommon Bare-faced Curassow.
Additional specialities in the Northern Pantanal include Chaco Chachalaca, the dainty Long-tailed Ground Dove, the beautiful Golden-collared Macaw, White-fronted and Pale-crested Woodpeckers, Great Rufous Woodcreeper, Cinereous-breasted Spinetail, Black-bellied Antwren, Planalto Slaty Antshrike, Mato Grosso Antbird, Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher, White-eyed Attila and Helmeted Manakin.
Amongst the many other bird species that we can expect to record during our explorations are the smart Blue-throated Piping Guan, Scaled and White-tipped Doves, Picui and Blue Ground Doves, Monk Parakeet, Turquoise-fronted Amazon, Striped Cuckoo, Great Horned Owl, Band-tailed and Nacunda Nighthawks, Little Nightjar, Common and Great Potoos, Versicolored and Glittering-throated Emeralds, Blue-crowned Trogon, White-wedged Piculet, White, Golden-green, Green-barred and Cream-colored Woodpeckers, and Campo Flicker.
Passerines include Red-billed Scythebill, Olivaceous and Narrow-billed Woodcreepers, Pale-legged Hornero, Chotoy and Sooty-fronted Spinetails, the jay-like Grey-crested Cacholote, Great Antshrike, Large-billed Antwren, Plain Antvireo, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Fuscous, Scarlet, Piratic, Streaked, Boat-billed and Fork-tailed Flycatchers, Black-backed Water Tyrant, White-headed Marsh Tyrant, Lesser Kiskadee, Rufous Casiornis, Green-backed Becard, Black-crowned Tityra, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Brown-chested Martin, Grass Wren, Masked Gnatcatcher, Rufous-bellied and Pale-breasted Thrushes, Yellowish Pipit, Flavescent and Golden-crowned Warblers, Solitary Cacique, Variable and Epaulet Orioles, Orange-backed Troupial, Giant Cowbird, White-browed Blackbird, the exquisite Scarlet-headed Blackbird, Greyish Baywing, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Sayaca, Guira and Grey-headed Tanagers, Red-crested and Yellow-billed Cardinals, and White-bellied Seedeater.
We should also find some of the more uncommon species, which include restricted-range species like Nanday (or Black-hooded) Parakeet, Buff-bellied and Cinnamon-throated Hermits, the unusual White-naped Xenopsaris, as well as Maguari Stork, Grey-headed Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, Ash-throated Crake, South American Snipe, Spot-tailed Nightjar, Scaly-headed Parrot, Black-capped Antwren, Greenish and Large Elaenias, Orange-headed Tanager and Lined Seedeater.
A major attraction of the Northern Pantanal for the naturalist is the near certainty (we have never missed it!) of meeting the most powerful cat in the New World, the mysterious and cagey Jaguar. Although this magnificent animal is still quite widespread in Central and South America, occurring from northern Mexico south to central Argentina, it is rarely seen almost everywhere. Jaguars are usually associated with large tracts of dense rainforest, but it is now known that they equally feel at home in more open habitat, with a very marked preference for the immediate vicinity of watercourses. The Pantanal probably holds the highest density of this enigmatic creature and is the world’s foremost locale for viewing and photographing Jaguars.
The most reliable way of seeing this inscrutable cat is to take boat trips on the rivers, as they like to loaf at the edge of a river or on the sandbanks. As we patrol the waterways we will be keeping a constant lookout for this spotted beauty, which is regularly active by day here, in contrast to its more crepuscular and nocturnal habits elsewhere on the continent. The largest individuals of ‘El Tigre’, as it is commonly referred to in most of Latin America, live here in the southern Mato Grosso, where average adults usually weigh twice as much as their colleagues in Central America.
We are nigh on certain to encounter this golden-eyed, exquisite marvel during our full-day boat trip from Porto Jofre and very likely we will encounter several! There is a high chance that one or more individuals will be cooperative enough to allow our cameras to click away furiously at close range!
Although Jaguars dominate the scene in the Pantanal, they would not be there for a healthy population of prey animals. Capybaras, the world’s largest rodents, are (along with caiman) a favourite prey of the big cat and occur all over the Pantanal, leading a semi-aquatic life. Collared Peccaries also feature high on the Jaguar’s menu and small, snorting groups are sometimes encountered. Other mammals that we have a fair chance of seeing include Azara’s Agouti, Crab-eating Fox, Neotropical River Otter, South American Coati, Black Howler Monkey, the curious-looking Brazilian Tapir and Marsh Deer. If we are particularly lucky we will encounter a Jaguarundi or an Ocelot. We will also make a special boat trip to try to see the awesome Giant Otter. Several family parties inhabit the rivers. Sometimes inquisitive individuals come to inspect the boat and can then be admired at minimal range. On at least one evening we will make an extended night drive, armed with a powerful spotlight, with the aim of trying to observe some of the spectacular mammals that inhabit the Pantanal.
Brazil’s Pantanal & Mato Grosso: Day 15 After a last morning in the glorious Pantanal we will return to Cuiabá airport where our tour ends this afternoon.
(If you find it easier, we will be pleased to arrange your internal flight from Cuiabá to your departure city in Brazil, even if you are arranging your own international tickets.)
ALTA FLORESTA EXTENSION
Alta Floresta: Day 1 We will spend the night in Cuiabá.
Alta Floresta: Day 2 This morning we will take a flight to the town of Alta Floresta, situated in the far north of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, on the border with the state of Pará. From Alta Floresta, we will travel by road and then boat to the Rio Azul Jungle Lodge for a three nights stay.
After driving through pastures and isolated patches of forest to the banks of the Rio Teles Pires (the local name for the upper reaches of the Rio Tapajós), a boat will take us onwards to the lodge. In the late afternoon, we will start birding in this remote paradise.
Alta Floresta: Days 3-4 The Alta Floresta region is situated near the geographical centre of Brazil, at the southern edge of the Amazonian rainforest, between two large rivers (the Rios Tapajós and Xingu) which have, over time, acted as barriers to the dispersal of many bird species.
The comfortable Rio Azul Jungle Lodge at Serra do Cachimbo is surrounded by protected areas that are part of Brazil’s ‘Southern Amazon Protected Corridor’.The rivers in this area are mainly blackwater rivers, a natural phenomenon whereby tannins leaching out from the forest vegetation through the sandy soil give a dark colour to the water.
As mentioned in the Overview, our prime purpose in coming to Alta Floresta and to Rio Azul, in particular, is to see the extraordinary and much-sought-after Bald Parrot. Alta Floresta holds a great variety of Amazonian birds, but almost all are very widespread and easy to see on other tours. It is the fact that Bald Parrot can reliably be observed here that really stands out!
In the early morning and late afternoon, squabbling and screeching flocks of macaws, parrots and parakeets exhibit a riot of colours as they fly between their roosts and distant feeding trees. Scarlet, Red-and-green and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Santarem and Golden-winged Parakeets, Dusky-billed Parrotlet, White-bellied and Blue-headed Parrots and the spectacular Red-fan Parrot are all regularly encountered here, but the main prizes of the psittacid family are the strange endemic Bald Parrot (the major draw at Rio Azul) and the recently-described Kawall’s (or White-faced) Amazon. Kawall’s Amazon is a restricted-range species that resembles the closely related Southern Mealy Amazon but can be identified by the patch of bare whitish skin at the base of the bill and the grey eyering.
Mixed-species flocks, led by exquisite White-winged Shrike-Tanagers, career through the canopy and may hold such species as the the hard-to-see-well Tooth-billed Wren, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, the lovely Red-billed Pied-Tanager, Turquoise, Paradise, Bay-headed, Opal-rumped and Green-and-gold Tanagers, Golden-bellied Euphonia, Black-faced and Yellow-bellied Dacnises, Green and Purple Honeycreepers and the widespread, but rarely-encountered Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak. Exposed snags provide lookouts for Paradise Jacamar, yelping White-throated Toucans and the glowing Spangled Cotinga.
There are usually flowering or fruiting trees to be found, giving us the opportunity to get acquainted with a whole realm of nectar-loving and frugivorous species including Black-necked and Curl-crested Aracaris, Slate-coloured and Blue-black Grosbeaks, and Olive Oropendola.
As the thermals start rising, Double-toothed Kites and Black Hawk-Eagles may cruise lazily overhead, whilst Pale-rumped and Grey-rumped Swifts sweep past. The diminutive Amazonian Pygmy Owl may put in an appearance and the secretive Black-bellied Cuckoo likes to creep about in emergent trees.
We will spend a lot of our time quietly creeping along trails in the tall terra firme forest of Alta Floresta. Understorey flocks can usually be detected by listening for the loud calls of Cinereous Antshrikes and may hold a dizzying mixture of species including Striped Woodcreeper, Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Plain Xenops, Fasciated, Plain-winged and Amazonian Antshrikes, Pygmy, Sclater’s, White-eyed, Plain-throated, Long-winged and Grey Antwrens, and Wing-barred Piprites.
Tiny, restless Fiery-capped and Band-tailed Manakins play hide-and-seek in the middle levels, where we will also hope to encounter the gorgeous Flame-crowned (or Flame-crested) Manakin. Isolated, almost-impenetrable bamboo thickets hold a very interesting range of species including the localized Chestnut-throated Spinetail, Manu and Striated Antbirds, and Dusky-tailed and Large-headed Flatbills.
We will also keep an eye and an ear open for army ant swarms with their attendant species. The superb Bare-eyed Antbird with its pale glaucous-green orbital ring and funny crest is a very-localized professional ant-follower, as is the unreal-looking Black-spotted Bare-eye. Other species we should encounter at the amazing phenomenon of an army ant swarm include Plain-brown and White-chinned Woodcreepers, Xingu Scale-backed Antbird, Tapajos Fire-eye and Red-crowned Ant Tanager.
Trails that penetrate the varzea, the seasonally flooded forest near the river, allow us access to a quite different assortment of birds. Here we will diligently search for the rather saurian-like Long-billed Woodcreeper and the dazzling Glossy Antshrike.
In the ‘alborada’, the local term for the mysterious twilight preceding dawn, one should listen for the barking calls of the Cryptic Forest Falcon, a relatively recently described species, and we will definitely try to lure this exciting bird into view.
We will surely explore a granite outcrop covered in scrubby and thorny woodland, terrestrial bromeliads and many vines. This is the territory of the very patchily-distributed Brown-banded Puffbird and also Dusky-capped Greenlet.
During a boat trip along the river, we also have yet another good chance of coming across the much sought-after Zigzag Heron. (Is there any other tour where you have so many cracks at this wonderful little critter?!)
Among the many other new species that we may well encounter during our time at Rio Azul are Great, White-throated and Variegated Tinamous, White-tailed Hawk, Tapajos Hermit, the stunning Crimson Topaz (there is a good chance here), Green-tailed Goldenthroat, Amethyst Woodstar, Eastern Striolated and Pied Puffbirds, Scaly-breasted Woodpecker and Black Caracara.
Among the passerines are Spix’s Woodcreeper, White-eyed Stipplethroat, Pygmy Antwren, Saturnine Antshrike, Spot-winged and Fasciated Antshrikes, Yellow-browed, White-browed and Spix’s Warbling Antbirds, White-bellied Tody-Tyrant (generally an uncommon speciality, but easier to see here than in most places), Helmeted Pygmy Tyrant, Grey-crowned and Ochre-lored Flatbills, Spotted Tody-Flycatcher, Spangled Cotinga, Dwarf Tyrant-Manakin, White-crowned Manakin, Masked Tityra, Plush-crested Jay, Southern Nightingale-Wren, White-lored Euphonia, Red-breasted Blackbird, Olive Oropendola, and Green-and-gold and Opal-rumped Tanagers.
In addition, we are sure to encounter a considerable number of the more uncommon species during our stay at Rio Azul.
These include Pied-billed Grebe, Black Hawk-Eagle, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Amazonian Pygmy Owl, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Rufous-breasted and White-bearded Hermits, Grey-breasted Sabrewing, White-necked Jacobin, Rufous-throated Sapphire, Black-eared Fairy, the superb Pavonine Quetzal, Rufous and Broad-billed Motmots, Great Jacamar, Collared Puffbird, Yellow-throated and Ringed Woodpeckers, Red-throated Caracara, Red-fan Parrot, Yellow-crowned Amazon, Dusky-billed Parrotlet, Chestnut-winged Hookbill, Rufous-rumped Foliage-gleaner, Plain Xenops, Amazonian Barred Woodcreeper, Xingu Scale-backed Antbird, Rufous-capped, Striated and Black-faced Antthrushes, the superb Chestnut-belted Gnateater, Wing-barred Pipirites, Slender-footed Tyrannulet, Zimmer’s Tody-Tyrant, Yellow-browed Tody-Flycatcher, Golden-crowned Spadebill, Ochre-bellied, Variegated, Dusky-chested and Ruddy-tailed Flycatchers, Greyish and Pale-bellied Mourners, Cinnamon and Bright-rumped Attilas, Varzea Schiffornis, Black-capped Becard, Hauxwell’s Thrush and the amazing Lawrence’s Thrush with its unique imitations.
Note that Alta Floresta Antpitta is only rarely recorded at Rio Azul. In spite of the name, this Brazilian endemic has a fairly large Amazonian range and features regularly on our Brazil’s Eastern Amazonia tour. It is also regularly observed at Rio Cristalino.
We will also be able to study the different species of monkeys that live in the Alta Floresta region. Family groups of Red-bellied Titi Monkeys, Guianan Brown Capuchins, Spix’s Red-handed Howlers and White-cheeked Spider Monkeys often forage in the trees, and we may also see Silvery Marmoset. Other mammals are not conspicuous, but sightings of Spotted Paca and the awesome Giant Otter are by no means uncommon.
Alta Floresta: Day 5 This morning we will return to Alta Floresta airport, where our tour ends.
(If you find it easier, we will be pleased to arrange your internal flight from Cuiabá to your departure city in Brazil, even if you are arranging your own international tickets.)
If you choose to stay on at Alta Floresta after our tour in order to visit the famous Rio Cristalino Lodge, you are sure to encounter some additional Amazonian birds. While Rio Azul is the place to go for the sought-after Bald Parrot, Rio Cristalino has a significantly different avifauna and you are sure to see a fair number of extra species during a visit of three nights.
The 630-hectare (1556-acre) privately owned Rio Cristalino Forest Reserve surrounding the comfortable Cristalino Lodge is well protected and is bordered on three sides by 2500 square kilometres (965 square miles) of almost completely undisturbed rainforest. No indigenous people live here, there is no disturbance from outside settlers and no hunting takes place. The lodge itself is built in a clearing on the banks of the river.
One of the main attractions at the Rio Cristalino Forest Reserve is the two well-built, 50m-high (160ft) aluminium towers that offer extraordinary views over the surrounding forest, which stretches away to the far horizon. One of the towers stands next to a magnificent forest giant and the roomy platforms allow intimate looks at different levels in the surrounding forest canopy. The towers are superb spots to bird from during early mornings, late afternoons and just after showers when many species come to dry out and enjoy the sunshine on top of the canopy.
Likely additions at Rio Cristalino include Hook-billed Kite, the superb White-browed Hawk, Ladder-tailed Nightjar, Long-tailed Woodcreeper, Curve-billed Scythebill (of the form cardosoi, sometimes split as Tapajos Scythebill), Bamboo Foliage-gleaner, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, Striated and Bare-eyed Antbirds, Alta Floresta Antpitta, Drab Water Tyrant, Dusky-headed Flatbill, Amazonian Royal Flycatcher, Slaty-capped Shrike-Vireo, Tooth-billed Wren, Red-billed Pied Tanager and the beautiful Rose-breasted Chat.
More uncommon species at Cristalino include Marbled Wood Quail, Least Grebe, the rare Crested Eagle, Tiny Hawk, Plumbeous Pigeon, Crested Owl, Chestnut Woodpecker, Spot-throated and Strong-billed Woodcreepers, Chestnut-crowned Foliage-gleaner, Ornate Stipplethroat, Thrush-like Antpitta, Amazonian Inezia, White-crested Spadebill, Large-headed Flatbill, Blue-backed Manakin, Tawny-crowned Greenlet and Rothschild’s, Yellow-shouldered and Slate-colored Grosbeaks.
Low guttural humming sounds emanating from the forest floor betray the presence of Dark-winged Trumpeters. These large and social birds roam the jungle in small groups and are one of the most-wanted prizes of the area, but as they do wander widely they are often hard to find.
There is a slim but real chance for Harpy Eagle at Rio Cristalino, depending on whether or not there is an accessible active nest that one can visit. Seeing an adult at a nest is always unlikely as they may only visit once a day or even less frequently; watching a well-grown or recently-fledged juvenile is the norm.