Saturday, 20 August 1988

BRAZIL July/August 1998: Iguacu, Pantanal & Sooretama

8 August.  We caught the first bus to the falls and spent much of the morning agog like the other tourists with the grandeur of it all.  It was a very impressive spectacle.  From the falls we got a lift back to the Museum and from there walked back to the campsite looking down side tracks.  We saw Agouti and Coatimundi scavenging around litter bins on the way but most tracks petered out quickly without getting into decent habitat.  Birds seen included Rusty-margined Guan, Great Dusky Swift, Red-breasted and Toco Toucans, Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, Streak-capped Antwren, Green-backed Becard, Blue-naped Chlorophonia and Red-crested Finch. 
Iguacu Falls, awe inspiring
me at Iguacu, note 1980s shorts
Iguacu, possibly the most impressive waterfall in the world, although Victoria Falls runs it very very close
Great Dusky Swift, safe from any predators under the waterfall
approaching the top of the falls, not the view one wants from a boat
a classic view of the falls, Brazil on the left and Argentina on the right
split level falls, the 'white' water suggested little sediment so no recent heavy rainfall and the river not in full flow
Coatimundi, at home around the rubbish bins at Iguacu
9 August.  We were up early and walked into the park before it was officially open, going as far as the Poco Preco track on which we spent most of the day.  Birds seen included Surucua Trogon, Red-breasted Toucan, Large-headed Flatbill, Sharpbill, Epaulet Oriole and Blue-naped Chlorophonia.
Iguacu Falls dominated from most places in the park, even when not in view their noise could not easily be  ignored
Lineated Woodpecker 
Ringed Kingfisher
female Surucua Trogon
Guira Cuckoo
10 August.  Our last day at Iguaçu.  We again caught the first bus to the falls for a bit more stunned gawping.  The falls were no less impressive the second time.  We walked back to the campsite looking for side tracks without any greater success.  Birds seen included Muscovy Duck (my only new bird), Ruddy Quail-Dove, Surucua Trogon, Red-breasted Toucan, Rufous-winged Antwren and Eared Pigmy-Tyrant.

more Iguacu views,. it was that sort of place ...

11 August.  We were heading for the Pantanal, not that far away by direct route but all our internal flights involved changing in either Rio or Sao Paulo.  This time it was the latter but involved flying almost as far in the opposite direction to get there.  Our Sao Paulo flight also left at 6am and we couldn’t rely on getting a taxi at 4am so we had a choice of either going to the airport the night before or getting up at 2am and walking.  We chose the latter as it was a small airport and when we’d arrived we’d not noticed anywhere suitable to crash out.  Whether we got any better nights sleep at the campsite is debatable as I was constantly waking up for fear of oversleeping.  We didn’t, were up, packed and walked to the airport in good time.  In Sao Paulo we connected with our flight to Cuiaba where we arrived late morning.  All of our internal flights were pretty much on time.  In Cuiaba we hired car and headed off to drive south to Pixaim in the Pantanal but soon got lost on the edge of town.  We picked up a hitchhiker who knew the way and were off but soon we were stopping for birds flying across the road.  Our hitcher soon bailed out preferring a rickety old truck – a wise move as our progress was slow and we didn’t get to Pixaim until after dark.  The only obvious ‘hotel’ was a very expensive dive which we suspected had a special ‘gringo arriving after dark’ rate, and not being prepared to be ripped off we continued driving.  We found a place to pull off the road about 7 kms further south and slept in the car uncertain of what was outside making lots of interesting noises!  It was at least as hot as Iguaçu and insects abounded.  Stopping along the road from Cuiaba we saw lots of waterbirds (including Rufescent Tiger Heron and Plumbeous Ibis), Sunbittern, Bare-faced Curassow, Red-legged Seriema, Golden-collared Macaw, Monk Parakeet, Turquoise-fronted Parrot, Rufous Chacolote, Rusty-backed Antbird and Yellow-billed Cardinal.
waterbirds on a roadside pool in the Pantanal

Neotropic Cormorant and Anhinga
Brazilian Duck
Jabiru and Wood Stork
Wood Stork
Sunbittern, a firm favourite of mine
Rufescent Tiger Heron

12 August.  Unsurprisingly I didn’t sleep well but seeing lots of alligators in nearby pools, some only 25m from where we’d parked, made us glad we’d slept in the car rather than putting up the tent.  A track by our campsite was excellent at dawn and we then spent all day slowly driving down to Porto Joffre, birding along the way.  We arrived about an hour before dusk and put up the tent in a basic campsite where we were entertained by a tame Blue & Yellow Macaw. Birds seen included the usual wetland species as well as Boat-billed and Rufescent Tiger Herons, Southern Screamer, Pearl Kite, Blue-throated Piping Guan, Grey-necked Wood Rail, Sunbittern, Large-billed Tern, Hyacinth Macaw (8), Band-tailed Nighthawk (40), Gilded Hummingbird, American Pigmy Kingfisher, Toco Toucan, Arrowhead Piculet, Great Antshrike, Helmetted Manakin, Bearded Tachuri, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant and Purplish Jay.
Snail Kite with what looks more like a crab than a snail
Southern Screamer
Rufous Hornero
Rusty-backed Antbird
Rufous-tailed Jacamar
Nick watching our main target bird for the Pantanal
Hyacynth Macaw, brilliant.

13 August.  We birded around Porto Joffre until mid morning when we packed up the tent and started the drive back to Cuiaba.  We had a few stops on the way, including one for a puncture.  From Cuiaba we continued on to Chapada dos Guiamares where we arrived at dusk and soon found a decent hotel.  Birds seen included Rufescent Tiger Heron, Southern Screamer, Crane Hawk, Blue-throated Piping Guan, Bare-faced Currasow, Sunbittern, South American Snipe , Hyacinth Macaw (4), Burrowing Owl, Blue-crowned Trogon, Toco Toucan, Great Rufous Woodcreeper, Great Antshrike, Band-tailed Antbird and Curl-crested Jay.
leaving the Pantanal
Amazon Kingfisher
Ringed Kingfisher
Crested Caracara
Vermillion Flycatcher

the drier scrub of Chapada Dos Guamires 
14 August.  We spent the morning birding around Chapada dos Guiamares before driving back to Cuiaba to catch the mid afternoon flight to Sao Paulo where we slept in airport.  Chapada was an interesting area where, perhaps more than anywhere else on the trip, we wished we’d had longer.  I felt this quite keenly when I only saw the back end of some Coal-crested Finches that Nick had found but we then didn’t have time to follow up.  Birds I did see at Chapada included Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Yellow-ridged Toucan, Large-billed Antwren, White-backed Fire-eye, Crested Becard, Fiery-capped Manakin (superb) and Saffron-billed Sparrow.

15 August.  After a reasonable night in the airport we caught the morning flight from Sao Paulo to Vitoria.  We arrived at 11.00, hired car and drove to IBDF office where we need to get a permit to visit Sooretama, a coastal forest reserve.  Unfortunately we arrived at the office just after it had closed for lunch.  Obtaining permission to visit Sooretama was not made easy by our having no common language with the very patient and helpful official in charge.  After Nick had a scare that he’d have to try and converse in French (he had an O-level whereas I only got 4% in my mock) I asked if he spoke any Spanish.  He knew about as much as I did (a couple of evening classes worth) and we just about made ourselves understood.  The thing he was most keen to impress upon us was no colectivo, colectivo prohibido which seemed pretty clear and we were able to agree wholeheartedly that we wouldn’t collect any specimens.  With permit issued and handshakes all round we departed mid afternoon for the drive up the coast to Linhares where we arrived at dusk and found a reasonable hotel to stay in.  Rather more of a travel only day than we’d originally hoped, I saw just 10 species of which Guira Cuckoo and Common Tody Flycatcher were about the most interesting.

16 August.  We left our hotel in Linhares and drove to the Ranger Station at Sooretama where we arrived at 08.00.  The permit worked wonders and we were given basic accommodation and an armed guide/guard, not that we really wanted the latter.  We birded along central forest trail until dusk.  Fortunately our guide, who was more of a guard, was persuaded to follow behind us so as not to disturb anything on the trail ahead.  Having heard horror stories of Chagas’ Disease carrying Assassin Bugs being prevalent in forest huts we were a bit concerned by the very basic nature of our accommodation.  We felt it would be rather ungrateful if we put the tent up, either in the room or outside it, so made ourselves as enclosed as possible with mosquito nets and plastic ground sheets.  We also decided to sleep with the lights on as the bug was supposed to only operate in the dark.  Birds seen included Ochre-marked, Maroon-faced and Plain Parakeets, Ferruginous Pigmy Owl, Crescent-chested Puffbird, Yellow-eared Woodpecker, Salvadori’s Antwren, Scaled Antbird and Green-backed, Chestnut-crowned and Black-capped Becards.
superb forest track at Sooretama, or it was once we persuaded our guard to walk a few paces behind us ...
Ochre-marked Parakeet
Swallow-tailed Hummingbird
Crescent-chested Puffbird
17 August.  We got up early, not having slept that well with the light on and imagining that every insect was an assassin.  There was no immediate sign of our guide so we quietly headed back to the central forest trail.  We’d hoped he’d not be with us as although he was no problem we were happier not having to be concerned by him – even if we’d felt like talking to him while birding we had no common language.  However returning to the car mid morning we found him by it.  Fortunately he seemed happy to either tag along or wait by the car, perhaps keeping an eye on two mad gringos was an easy duty for him?  We spent the rest of the day on the central forest trail and southern perimeter track and returned to HQ at dusk.  Birds seen included Solitary Tinamou, White-necked Hawk, Rusty-margined Guan, Red-billed Currasow, Red-browed Parrot, Tawny-browed Owl (2 by HQ after dark), Yellow-throated Woodpecker, Band-tailed Antwren, Scaled Antbird and Yellow-Green Grosbeak.

18 August.  For our last day at Sooretama we concentrated on the central forest trail and northern perimeter track with our guide seemingly happy tagging along.  Birds seen included Solitary Tinamou, Rusty-margined Guan, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Blond-crested Woodpecker, Striated Soft-tail, Band-tailed and Rufous-winged Antwrens, Scaled Antbird, White-bearded Manakin and Moustached Wren.

19 August.  We said our goodbyes to the head Ranger and I gave him a small compass he’d been quite interested in when we’d arrived – I’d tried to get across that with it there was little danger of us getting lost in the hope we wouldn’t need a guide – he seemed pleased iwt hit, or was very polite!  We left the Ranger Station soon after dawn and drove back to the main road which cuts through a corner of the National Park, birding along there for a few hours without seeing that much.  We’d hoped to see some cotingas perched up but had no success, nor could we find any tracks into the forest although we would have been reluctant to leave the car, with all our gear in the boot, by the side of the road unattended for any length of time.  Where was our guard when we really needed him!  We drove back south to Vitoria, returned the car and caught a flight to Rio where we slept in the airport.  Birds seen included Laughing Falcon, Mealy Parrot, Burrowing Owl, White-tailed Trogon and Swallow-wing.

20 August.  Our last day and after a quick walk along an almost deserted Copacabana (most of Rio doesn’t get up early) we headed to the Cog Railway Station for a trip up to Corcovado.  It was still early but the sight of armed guards along the way was rather off-putting.  Corcovado gave superb views over Rio and the Christ the Redeemer statue was very impressive but we had an ulterior motive for our visit as Long-billed Wren could be seen along the tracks near the top.  We found one but saw little else and curtailed our visit due to the large number of people now arriving.  We walking halfway down before deciding to catch the train the rest of the way, the areas reputation for tourist robberies was playing on our minds.  We spent the rest of the day unmemorably in Rio and caught the overnight flight back to London.  Brazil was a much more interesting and varied destination than I had expected, obviously helped by seeing about 480 species of which 250 or so were new.  The trip cost us approximately £1250 each which included £550 air fare to Rio and £200 for a three week airpass.  Nick was a brilliant companion as always and it was a privilege to have spent time birding with Bruce Forester.

Early morning along the Copacabana
Corcovado from afar

Corcovado Cog Railway 
our guide book suggested that walking this route rather than getting the train was a sure-fire way to become parted with ones money and a number of armed guards patrolling it gave some credibility to that possibility.  We got the train up and only walked halfway back down assuming any muggers didn't get up that early or walk that far ...
Christ the Redeemer
view from Corcovado
looking down on Sugarloaf Mountain
forested hills at Corcovado
typical view of Rio

21 August.  Getting home I proposed to Megan and she accepted, absence does make the heart grow fonder!  A perfect end to the trip, but Brazil was to play a final card …

Some weeks later.  What I thought was a persistent mosquito/chigger bite on my ankle kept weeping and refused to heal.  Occasional sudden painful twinges from it made me suspect that it might be a Botfly larvae.  A guide book suggested gluing up its breathing hole would kill it but my attempts to do so only caused me to stick the hairs on my leg together.  I decided a more direct approach was needed and covered the area with iodine.  This was more painful but worked as a few hours later I managed to extract a dead half-inch long larvae after which the wound soon healed.

[blogged March 2013]