July 18-19, Chapter Six
Cristalino almost took our small group out of the running! The danger was never as severe as we feared, but the fear was real. It started when Peggy felt a little run-down on the 17th. Then on the 18th, Jean's stomach wasn't up to all the morning's activity, and mine betrayed me after lunch; I had to skip the afternoon trip. And it was on that afternoon trip that Frank was stung or bitten by some insect to which he had an allergic reaction, and his speech became slurred as his tongue was swelling...and then Peggy saved his life with Benadryl!
The morning of the 18th was slated for our second tower, Tower Dr. Chip Haven. Like the previous day, making this climb and viewing the forest from above was wonderful. This tower only has 228 steps, so it's way more reasonable...
Parrots were always the best family for viewing from the Towers. This is, I believe, a Red-fan Parrot (Deroptyus accipitrinus). Once we had to vacate the tower (due to heat), we went out of the water briefly, watching as butterflies colonized the nose of a turtle.
Galls and Dragonflies and Butterflies and a Turtle! Because I conked out for the afternoon, I have no pictures from later in the day.
The 19th would be a travel day, but not without some great birding on either end. In the morning, at Cristalino, there was a buzz when I arrived for breakfast - a genuine rarity! A Painted-billed Crake (Mustelirallus erythrops)! This is technically out-of-range for Cristalino, with an accidental sighting every seven years or so. We then went to the area known as the Magic Garden. There were more Blackish Nightjars here: YAY! And beautiful lichens.
Paint-billed Crake, Blackish Nightjar, a script lichen species (Graphidaceae).
On this trip, I had poor luck when photographing hummingbirds. But this day I was able to nab good pictures of a a Black-throated Mango (Anthracothorax nigricollis) and a White-necked Jacobin (Florisuga mellivora). The last picture shows Peggy (back turned to us), Margaret, and Frank at the lodge, near our assigned table.
We had to take to the river one last time to get back to the bustling Alta Floresta airport. As we were boarding, one of the commonest birds in this habitat - Swallow-winged Puffbird (Chelidoptera tenebrosa) - was exhibiting an interesting behavior, that seemed to be a combination of "anting" (when a bird lets an insect, usually an ant, get under its wings to clean out parasites) and sun-bathing. As we went downstream we saw a Large-billed Tern. This species is one that I had long seen illustrated in North American field guides, because it is a vagrant at home. But I'd never seen one in reality until this tour. That creates a different relationship to the bird than to most of the new species. This was a bird I had come to know abstractly, almost in a cartoonish manner, and then got to experience it. In many ways it suggested what would happen, behavior-wise, in the love-child of a Caspian Tern and a Black Skimmer! In other words, I loved it.
Large-billed Tern; a statue of the rare animals at Cristalino; the moon as of July 19, 2022
When we got to the spot where we transferred back into a van (motorized transport for the first time in four days!), our friend Lucas was waiting for us! We had a great reunion, gaffawing all the way to the bustling (not) metropolis. Then we found snacks at the Alta Floresta terminal, and boarded our plane for the quick trip back to Cuiabá.
Me and Lucas; me on the plane; a road sign about keeping Alta Floresta without fire ("sem fugo")
And now began the third major section of the trip - the ride into the Pantanal. The Pantanal is a massive eco-zone, primarily in Brazil but reaching into northern Bolivia and Paraguay, too. It is the largest Tropical wetland habitat in the world, and the site of the densest population of reptiles on earth. We were welcomed in the gateway to the Pantanal, the city of Poconé, by giant statues of cool birds. I find this a winsome quality in a town! We stayed for two nights at Aymara Lodge, which had maybe the nicest rooms of all, and the best set-up for easy hiking and naturalizing of all the places we went. And, as they say, all pathways lead to the bar (which in my case meant Diet Coke). We then took a night ride around the grounds, and found one of our most desired birds - the Great Potoo (Nyctibius grqndis). Potoos freeze into position all day, imitating logs or stumps, then open their eyes at night to catch large flying insects. They look weird because they are weird. They are among the reasons that we are born on this planet to experience life, like the cat meme below says:
Great Potoo; Statues of birds in Poconé; twilight in the Pantanal; love and terror happen in cats, Potoos, and world history.
Somewhere on the drive in the northern Pantanal, I passed a major milestone - my 2000th life bird! Since, for a variety of reasons, I couldn't be counting as I went along, the assignation of the special bird is somewhat arbitrary. Among the candidates was another wonderful nightjar - the Ñacundá Nightjar (Chordeiles nacunda). Mottled brown above, but whitish below, it can give a flip-card appearance when flying. Like the Blackish Nightjar, it is not hesitant to perch in plain sight during the day. My photograph here is from a later day, but I celebrate it as Bird #2000. For interested parties, Bird #1000 was the Spangle-cheeked Tanager (Tangara dowii) seen in Costa Rica in December 2008. In other words, it took almost 14 years to get from 1000 to 2000. Hopefully the next milestone comes a lot faster. I don't have my own picture of a Spangle-cheeked Tanager, so I borrowed one from Yamil Saenz long ago.
Ñacundá Nighthawk, July 24, 2022, Pantanal, Mato Grosso
Spangle-cheeked Tanager (photo by Yamil Saenz, I think)
The next entries will be all about the Pantanal, as we go deeper to Porto Jofre and more riverine adventures.