Sunday 12 June 2022

AMAZONIAN BRAZIL 2022: Rondonia and Acre: Jaci-Parana and Rio Branco 06-12 June

This is the fourth and final blog post covering a very successful trip to Amazonian Brazil with Matt Eade, Paul Noakes and Nick Preston. It was organized for us and very ably guided by Brad Davis of Agami Nature Tours. The photos are mine, Paul's and Matt's, as indicated. We'd arrived in Jaci-Parana the previous evening. With a boat trip arranged to look for an ultra rare bird the following morning it felt much like UK twitching and I had an anxious night ...

Monday 06 June. Today was hopefully Rondonia Bushbird day. We had breakfast at 05:00 and left at 05:30 to drive to the end of Linha do IBAMA where we met boatman Erivelton. We piled into his boat and he took us down the Rio Branco for 20 minutes to his homestead on the west bank. Confusingly this was nothing to do with the city Rio Branco in Acre and where we would be going next. To confuse things further the city of Rio Branco is on the Rio Acre.  Back to this Rio Branco, Erivelton's homestead was between the river from which we'd landed and a small lagoon which he ferried us across one at a time in a small canoe. Once across we walked up a narrow trail through a clearing and into the nearby forest where we arrived at 07:30. We concentrated on two bamboo patches, briefly trying the more regular site first but moving on when we failed to elicit a response there as Bruno’s group had seen the bushbird at the second site the previous week. A longer session here was also unsuccessful so we returned to the first and played bushbird recordings almost continually for another hour or so before hearing a response. It took a while to pin down where the bird was calling from but eventually Brad spotted a male Rondonia Bushbird deep in a bamboo patch and even managed to get his scope on it – what a bill! Soon after Nick spotted the more colourful although perhaps not quite so impressively billed female which also gave good, if somewhat brief, views. We birded the trail for another couple of hours seeing female Black-necked Red Cotinga rather briefly, Banded Antbird and a Tawny-bellied Screech Owl that Matt found. We also saw an amazing mouse opossum that Paul picked up with his thermal camera. We also saw Laughing Falconour first Santarem ParakeetsBlue & Yellow Macaw, White-eyed Stipplethroat, Black-throated Antbird and a male Spangled Cotinga. We returned to the boat but heavy rain delayed our departure as we sheltered in Erivelton's homestead. The rain eased and we took a chance to leave but were drenched by a downpour three-quarters of the way back to Linha do IBAMA. The rain stopped and we birded along the Lihna to dusk seeing a rather wet Eastern Striolated Puffbird. It looked and sounded to us pretty much identical to the Western Striolated Puffbird we’d seen in Amazonas National Park some distance to the east! We returned for another night in Jaci-Parana's Fama Hotel.

heading up river on the bushbird twitch, tense times for all

Hoatzin from the boat
Almost there. Erivelton ferrying Paul across the lagoon to the bushbird trail
Nick went next
then me (Photo: Matt Eade)
and Matt
bushbird damage was the closest I managed to photographing this bamboo specialist,
they listen for prey inside the bamboo and use their impressive bills to break in and extract it. We saw a pair but it was all I could do to get a decent view of them. Paul and Matt did much better, obtaining very evocative images of the male and female respectively.
male Rondonia Bushbird (photos: Paul Noakes)

female Rondonia Bushbird (photos: Matt Eade)
nicer plumage than the male but with a slightly less impressive bill?
Tawny-bellied Screech Owl at the bushbird site
Tawny-bellied Screech Owl (photo: Paul Noakes)
Banded Antbird - more bill than tail!
to my mind one of the best of all the antbirds

Banded Antbird - an absolutely stunning bird (photo: Paul Noakes)
unidentified Marmosa or Mouse Opossum

Iphiclus? Sister enjoying the sweat on my bag
Isabella's Longwing or something very similar
a rather wet Eastern Striolated Puffbird along Linha do IBAMA

Eastern Striolated Puffbird along Linha do IBAMA (photos: Paul Noakes)

Tuesday 07 June. We had breakfast and left the hotel soon after 05:30 to drive over the causeway to Pousada do Pedrino where Erivelton and friend were waiting with two boats pulled up beside the Rio Jasi Parana. I was the heavy-weight of our group travelling with Brad in Erivelton’s boat with Nick, Paul and Matt in the other. We headed out under the bridge to join the Rio Madeira and continued west to Ilha dos Buffalos, a large river island a bit under an hour upstream. We arrived at 07:35 seeing Orinoco Geese, Collared PloversLarge-billed and Yellow-billed Terns and Black Skimmers on a sandbank opposite. In little over two hours we saw Olive-spotted Hummingbirda roosting Ladder-tailed NightjarLesser Hornero, Black & White Antbird, Rusty-backedParker’s and White-bellied Spinetails, Brownish Elaenia (a pleasant surprise), Plain IneziaLesser Wagtail-Tyrant, Little Ground-Tyrant, Riverside Tyrant, a floodplain Black-billed Thrush (one to remember for the future) and Orange-headed Tanager. The river island specialties amongst them had been relatively easy to find and we left very satisfied at 09:55 slightly ahead of schedule (we had a long drive ahead). However a few minutes out the other boat’s outboard engine died and when cleaning fuel lines didn't work had to be stripped down, taking 30 minutes before it was going again. We returned to the Fama Hotel at 11:10, packed, had lunch there and then drove to the Ibis Hotel in Rio Branco, a city not much smaller than Porto Velho. It took almost 6 hours with a couple of brief stops. With Acre being an hour behind Rondovia it was only 17:30 although it was already getting dark.

heading west up the Rio Madeira
Erivelton, me and Brad approaching the sandbank (photo: Matt Eade)
Yellow-billed Terns, Black Skimmers and Large-billed Tern on the sandbank

Large-billed Tern and Black Skimmers
Black Skimmer and Yellow-billed Terns

Black Skimmers
Collared Plover on the sandbank

Orinoco Geese on the sandbank

something I'd wanted to see for almost 40 years
Little Ground-Tyrant on Ilha dos Buffalos (photo: Paul Noakes)
Lesser Hornero on Ilha dos Buffalos (photo: Paul Noakes)

Southern Scrub Flycatcher on Ilha dos Buffalos (photos: Paul Noakes)

Olive-spotted Hummingbird on Ilha dos Buffalos
Olive-spotted Hummingbird on Ilha dos Buffalos (photo: Paul Noakes)
Plain Inezia on Ilha dos Buffalos (photo: Paul Noakes)
Parker's Spinetail on Ilha dos Buffalos (photo: Paul Noakes)
Riverside Tyrant on Ilha dos Buffalos (photo: Paul Noakes)
Black-capped Donacobius on Ilha dos Buffalos
Brownish Elaenia on Ilha dos Buffalos (photo: Paul Noakes)
roosting Ladder-tailed Nightjar on Ilha dos Buffalos

Ladder-tailed Nightjar on Ilha dos Buffalos (photo: Paul Noakes)

Black and White Antbird on Ilha dos Buffalos (photos: Paul Noakes)

Rufous-tailed Jacamar on Ilha dos Buffalos
Matt, Nick and Paul underway again

Wednesday 08 June. Breakfast had been laid out for us for 04:00 and we left at 04:40 to drive to Ramal do Noca. We left Rio Branco on the rather grand sounding Transacreana Highway and drove west along its poorly paved surface for almost an hour to Capela Santa Luzia. Here we turned south onto a narrow dirt road – Ramal do Noca - that immediately became muddy and quite treacherous, probably due to heavy overnight rain. Brad engaged 4WD and managed to keep control although on a couple of occasions it was a close-run thing. After a couple of miles we entered forest where the road condition improved. We birded along the road to midday seeing many birds including Speckled Chachalaca, Dark-billed Cuckoo, Broad-billed Motmot, White-throated and Bluish-fronted Jacamars, Chestnut-capped PuffbirdRufous-capped Nunlet, Fine-barred Piculet, Red-billed Scythebill, Black-capped Parakeet, Blue-headed and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Ornate Stipplethroat, Bluish-slate, Barred and Bambo Antshrikes, Yellow-breasted Warbling, Riparian, White-browed and Goeldi's Antbirds, Inambari Woodcreeper, Acre Tody-Tyrant, Dusky-tailed Flatbill, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Black-faced Cotinga and Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakin. Not all of the above gave me the views I'd hoped for and it didn’t take long for countless sweat-bees to find us so Ramal do Noca wasn't as enjoyable as it might have been. The sweat-bees tried, sometimes successfully, to get into my eyes (glasses not being a great obstacle) and up my nose (until I thought to wear a Covid mask). Having several bees walking around on my glasses was very distracting when trying to spot birds and I was too slow getting on to a couple at all, something I was increasingly struggling to do anyway. Nick was stung by wasps and, much worse, Matt was bitten by a Bullet Ant causing him considerable pain for several hours. After an extended field lunch Matt had not recovered and laid down in the car for a bit while we went down a narrow trail. We kept expecting Matt to join us on the trail and were somewhat relieved when we returned to the car at 16:30, being away rather longer than we’d anticipated, to find him birding along the road. The trail proved excellent with Black-capped Tinamou, Pavonine Cuckoo, White-throated Woodpecker and bits of a calling Amazonian Antpitta. I also had better than before, but still untickable, views of a Chestnut-crowned Foliage-Gleaner. We birded along the track for another hour before leaving Ramal do Noca at 17:25. The track had dried out during the day and was in much better condition making our departure much easier. We were back at the Ibis Hotel in Rio Branco an hour later, the last part of the drive in the dark. I’d seen 15 new birds, my highest day total for many years.

Bamboo Antshrikes at Ramal do Noca, female above and male below (photos: Paul Noakes)

Yellow-breasted Warbling-Antbird at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)

Black-capped Parakeet at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
Owl Butterfly (Caligo sp.) at Ramal do Noca
Urania Swallowtail on Ramal do Noca
snack time with Iphiclus Sister looking on
Black-faced Cotinga at Ramal do Noca

Black-faced Cotinga at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
Rusty-fronted Tody-Tyrant at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakin at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
Chestnut-capped Puffbird at Ramal do Noca

Chestnut-capped Puffbird at Ramal do Noca (photos: Paul Noakes)

Blue-tailed Emerald at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
Dark-billed Cuckoo at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)

Rufous-capped Nunlet at Ramal do Noca

Rufous-capped Nunlet at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
Pavonine Cuckoo at Ramal do Noca (photos: Paul Noakes)

White-throated Woodpecker at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
White-throated Jacamar at Ramal do Noca

White-throated Jacamar at Ramal do Noca (photos: Paul Noakes)

Grey-headed Kite at Ramal do  Noca (photos: Paul Noakes)

Thursday 09 June. Breakfast at 04:00, left at 04:35 and drove to Ramal do Noca where the road had dried out. We stopped a few times and at one made a determined effort to see Chestnut-headed Crake but only Matt and Nick were successful as it failed to come all the way in to tape. Paul and I were on the wrong side of a small open area to stick our heads in and had to settle for ‘heard only’. We continued to the end of the road and parked at a homestead in a clearing by the Rio Espalha. We crossed the river on a wooden bridge and birded the varzea on the other side from 08:55-16:55. The bamboo dieback was evident in places but at least some of the specialties were still present. Here we saw Striated Antbird, a pair of superb Fulvous-chinned Nunlets and a Flammulated Pygmy-Tyrant. We also saw Chestnut-eared Aracari, Long-billed Woodcreeper, Plumbeous and White-browed Antbirds, Johannes's Tody-Tyrant, White-eyed Attila, Yellow-cheeked Becard and Grey-headed Tanager.  We returned to the Ramal do Noca and birded the end of the road as the light started to go. A White-lined Antbird proved very difficult to see despite singing almost continually. I had a flight view and with Brad’s help saw the upper-parts of a male deep in the vegetation, neither view were very satisfactory. Blue-headed, Chestnut-fronted and Scarlet Macaws were much more obliging, landing in nearby trees although by now the light was fading fast. We drove half way back through the forest to an area Brad had previously encountered Silky-tailed Nightjar and Ocellated Poorwill. We heard 2-3 of each but only managed abysmal flight views of the former. The latter looked to be heading that way too, until Brad very impressively spotted one that was perched low down, almost hidden behind a nearer tree. We left Ramal do Noca at 19:25, another long day in the field.

Sapphire-spangled Emerald at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
Johannes's Tody-Tyrant at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
Plumbeous Antbird at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
Fulvous-chinned Nunlet in the Ramal do Noca
one of my most wanted trip birds and it did not disappoint

it was more colourful than my images above suggest. Fulvous-chinned Nunlet at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
Dusky-capped Parakeet at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
 Euler's Flycatcher at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
Rio Espalha varzea from the homestead during a break for lunch
Nick and me crossing the Rio Espalha to revisit the varzea (photo: Matt Eade)
Flammulated Pygmy-Tyrant at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)

Yellow-cheeked Becard at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)

Chestnut-fronted Macaw at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)

Blue-headed Macaws at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)

Little Woodpecker at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)

Ocellated Poorwill at Ramal do Noca (photos: Paul Noakes)

Friday 10 June. Our last full day, we departed the Ibis Hotel at 04:40 and drove to Ramal do Noca. It had rained during the night and was very dull and the track slippery. We birded along the road but I found it frustrating. A fly-over Rufous-headed Woodpecker was only seen by Nick and Brad, a calling but very skulking Rufous Twistwing by Nick (Paul having seen one on our first day here) and a Chestnut-crowned Foliage-Gleaner rocketed through without stopping. I saw Rufous-breasted Hermit, Dark-billed Cuckoo, Blue-crowned and Collared Trogons, Lettered and Brown-mandibled Aracaris, Blue-headed, Chestnut-fronted and Scarlet Macaws, Bluish-slate and Bamboo Antshrikes, Purple-throated Fruitcrow and White-winged Becard. It was the first day I'd not seen a new bird although I did manage a halfway decent view of the Bamboo version of Ihering’s Antwren which might be one day. It started to rain and although a temporary lull gave us hope we could continue birding it became more persistent and we walked back to the car. The track was becoming quite slippery and, with the amount of mud on our boots building up, we decided to leave. Some very skillful driving from Brad, akin to a top rally driver as he worked the steering wheel frantically one way and the other, prevented the car slipping off the track. That was until going up the final hill the car slipped into the side of the road and became stuck just 50m short of the Transacreana 'Highway'. Brad very carefully reversed and lined the car up in the centre of the road. Once satisfied he floored it and at 15:00 we made it to the highway, much to all our relief. That was it, we returned to Rio Branco and the Ibis Hotel. Emptying out the car confirmed there was more mud inside it than out but fortunately a tap in the forecourt enabled us to wash off our boots and the car’s floor mats.

Greater Yellow-headed Vulture at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)

Guira Tanager at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
Lettered Aracari at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
Black-tailed Trogon at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)
Blue-crowned Trogon at Ramal do Noca (photos: Paul Noakes)

Yellowish Tyrannulet at Ramal do Noca (photo: Paul Noakes)

Saturday 11 June. Before breakfast I walked across the road from the Ibis Hotel to two small lakes. I’d seen one from my room and although it looked pretty birdless it seemed worth a look. I saw a few birds, the best being 5 Brazilian Duck, Fork-tailed Palm-Swift, Wattled Jacana, Capped Heron and Tui Parakeet. Brad took us to the airport (in taxis to avoid our bags been contaminated by our muddy vehicle) and our flights, LATAM to Sao Paulo and then London Heathrow, were on time. The seven hour transit in Sao Paulo (16:45-23:50) was pretty tedious but did give me the opportunity to type up my diary.

Sunday 12 June. We arrived on time at Heathrow, breezed through Passport Control and hardly had to wait for our bags. We said our goodbyes and what a great trip it had been, I caught an earlier bus than I was expecting and was home by 18:50.