Brazil 2015 part 1
Parrots International Symposium By Steve Brookes
I had already organised my Parrot Watching trip to see the Lear’s Macaws and the Eastern Atlantic Rainforest when I heard that Parrots International were arranging for their 9th Annual Symposium to be in Brazil, the first time it would be outside of the USA. It was to be held in Campo Grande, the gateway city to the Pantanal so I thought if I tweaked my dates a bit I could do my Lear’s Macaw trip as well as the Symposium with a trip to the Pantanal in between. With Hyacinth and Lear’s Macaws as the main focus and many more parrots along the way this was going to be amazing.
With everything in place for all my clients to join me at the various start points for each part of the trip (not everyone did the whole month with me), it was soon time to start packing and head out to Brazil for the Symposium.
I had never been to a Parrots International Symposium before so with numerous presentations mostly of in-situ parrot conservation projects and the majority of these projects being in Brazil, some of which I had visited in previous years, it was time for me to get up to date with the latest news, and I was not disappointed.
With presentations about Lear’s, Hyacinth, Spix, Green-winged, and Blue and Yellow Macaws, Blue-fronted, Puerto Rican, Mealy, Red-tailed and Atlantic Rainforest Amazons, Grey-breasted Parakeets, African Grey Parrots, Indonesian and Philippine Cockatoos with many other parrot related projects as well as an overview of the parrot projects that Parrots International are helping by 21 International speakers this gave us an amazing insight into all these projects.
All these talks were complimented with numerous poster presentations giving us a further insight into yet more parrot projects. This was a truly spectacular symposium that was enjoyed by an array of Parrot people from across the globe.
I was aware that there were some Macaws nesting within the boundaries of the city of Campo Grande. What I was not aware of was the sheer quantity of Macaws with in excess of 400 Macaw nest sites across the city and we had the privilege of being taken round some of these nest sites as part of the Symposium. Unfortunately, some of the Blue and yellow Macaws have hybridised with Green-winged Macaws.
Symposium over it was now time to start the Parrot watching in the wild starting with the Pantanal and Buraco das Araras before moving onto the North-east of Brazil for Lear’s Macaws and the Eastern Atlantic Rainforest a possibility of numerous Parrot sightings including 8 Macaw species.
Brazil 2015 part 2 - The Pantanal By Steve Brookes
However exciting the Symposium was, and this one certainly was, I always get a real buzz going to the Pantanal and this time would be no different.
The Pantanal is an area that floods for several months of the year so in the dry season it is a lot easier to move around. It is a place to see Hyacinth Macaws (Anondorhynchus hyacinthinus) with relative ease due mainly to the relentless work of Neiva Guedes who has devoted her life to the conservation of these magnificent macaws.
Two hundred kilometres, about a 4 hour drive, west of Campo Grande is the Aguape Lodge and after our guide Alyson met us in our hotel, that is where we arrived at noon on our first day.
We checked in rather rapidly and literally threw our bags into the rooms taking cameras with us as we could hear our first Hyacinth Macaws to the rear of the lodge.
A group of about 20 were found drinking from the cattle water points and the surrounding trees.
What we did not realise was as we had walked into the reception from the mini-bus we had gone past a dead hollow palm tree. This turned out to be a nest hole for a pair of Hyacinth Macaws which did not seem too worried about us being there. We did not look into the nest but we were told that there was a youngster in there who had just started to grow its blue feathers and the adult behaviour would probably be indicative of this as they both flew off and came back again on a very regular basis, no doubt they were feeding the youngster.
Needless to say we spent every minute we had spare, in between trips out and meals, watching this pair as they went about their daily routine.
Aguape lodge is on a working farm and like many of the farms throughout the Pantanal has several thousand head of cattle, which is the only use for this land that floods annually. Subsequently the original habitat remains virtually un-touched, conserved for all the local varied wildlife, including giant anteaters, tapirs, giant otters, armadillos, macaws and parrots and much. Many of which have not been researched thoroughly and are still giving up their secrets.
The lodge land is divided into various large fields with many trails through it allowing easy access for the 4x4 truck taking us and our equipment around to see what we encounter.
Our first trip out using the truck took us around the farm where we saw the Nanday (Aratinga nenday) and Peach fronted Conures (Eupsittula aurea) which come down to the ground and eat the seeding grasses.
We eventually came across a river on which, after lunch, we were able to take a boat ride to see the water birds of the area.
Meanwhile alongside the river were a number of parakeets in the trees which turned out to be Blaze winged Conures (Pyrrhura devillei). Although I managed to get a few photos on this occasion, the encounter was very brief so we decided to come back earlier on both of the following mornings which proved to be a far different experience.
Our guide does not use a play back machine much at all but this time he decided to use it although he did not have a call of the Blaze-winged but had a recording of Green-cheeked Conures (Pyrrhura molinae), a species not found in this area, however the inquisitive conures just could not get enough of this, coming down to see who was making these calls. They were so intrigued with this that we did not seem to exist to them, consequently coming extremely close, so close in fact that instead of using my lens at 600mm it was down to 150mm and I even had to move back in some instances to get the shot I wanted.
We put the play back machine on the floor under a bush and they were so inquisitive they landed directly on it and eventually chewed through the small wire to the speaker. These are the best shots I have ever taken of these stunning little parrots.
In the same area were some Blue-fronted Amazons (Amazona aestiva) in the trees feeding but we got the biggest buzz out of seeing the Blaze-winged Conures.
White-eyed Conures (Psittacara leucophthalmus) and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets (Brotogeris chiriri) were also seen around the river area although the Yellow-chevroned seemed to be around most corners that we went around the lodge grounds.
I have seen both of these parrots in many different regions around Brazil and across South America but seeing the greatest numbers of the Yellow-chevroned in Bolivia.
Coming back from a river boat trip after seeing numerous egrets, herons, storks, ibis, anhingas and kingfishers we came across some Hyacinth Macaws who just seemed to be playing on a dead palm tree, maybe looking at creating a new nest for themselves so we took many photos getting closer and closer. When everyone had taken all the photos, of this pair, that they wanted to I said that I would go right up to the tree to try to get some close shots looking up at them but I told everyone else to be prepared to take some flight shots just in case they would not tolerate me being that close. To my surprise they stayed there and for some time. Magic!!!
Around the lodge itself were numerous palm and fruit trees including mango and star fruit which seemed a major attraction for a number of birds including the parrots.
This is where we saw several pairs of Red-shouldered Macaws (Diopsittaca nobilis) using palm trees possibly as a nest but again another parrot that was playing most of the time, and Scaly-headed Parrot (Pionus maximiliani), more commonly known as Maximilian’s Pionus eating the star fruit directly outside of my room.
The local guide, who was also our driver of the truck around the lodge, came in one morning and told us he had seen 3 giant anteaters in the vicinity and did we want to try to find one. It goes without saying that we were on the truck and away in no time at all. We went through field after field and then we seemed to go off-track to the middle of an area with clumps of bush plants and he said that there was one in this particular bush. For several minutes we looked but could not see anything then all of a sudden some small low branches started to move and out popped this amazing creature. Wow!!!
We continued on into some other fields and this is where we came across the Monk or Quaker Parakeet (Myiopsitta monachus) in a communal nest but instead of building its own this time it had adapted the nest of a Jabiru Stork with the same effect.
Just a little further we went into a small forested area where we saw the White-eyed Conures as well as Yellow-collared Macaws (Primolius auricollis) in a large group feeding but their calls gave them away so it was not difficult to find them.
A little further again and we came across one of the large manduvi trees, the more usual tree used for nesting by the Hyacinth Macaws and there in the crack of the tree was a pair of Macaws.
Much better to see, when zoomed in, their faces looking so comical and mischievous at the same time maybe even looking pleased to see us.
Back around the lodge, after lunchtime, it is the time when most people visiting the Pantanal usually siesta because of the heat but I find it is also a time to check out some of the shady spots to see what is going on and maybe find some Hyacinth Macaws enjoying the palm nuts. This is what I did one day and to my surprise found about 12 Macaws spread across several palms eating away with not a care and as I approached nearer and nearer they just carried on what they were doing. At one point I just left my camera on video mode on the tripod whilst I went to find the others in the group, only finding one of them, the remainder probably already on siesta time.
Play seems to be a big part of any parrots’ life style. It is great to see them do what is obviously something very natural and they enjoy immensely. It makes for good photo opportunities as well so you have got to be constantly observing everything around you to be ready for anything that happens.
Another successful Parrot watching trip to the Pantanal finished we now move onto Buraco das Araras for the next part.
Brazil 2015 part 3 - Buraco das Araras By Steve Brookes
Another 4 hour drive south from Aguape Lodge is Bonito where our hotel for the next 2 nights was to be and the closest place to stay for Buraco das Araras which was a further 1 hour away. We spent no time in checking in, having some lunch and then getting under way again to go see the next spectacle of our journey.
Buraco das Araras or ‘Macaw hole’ as it is roughly translated was a cave where the roof had collapsed some 1000’s of years ago leaving a very natural hole in the ground with some 500 metres in circumference around the top edge and two platforms giving great views of the inhabitants.
And who are the inhabitants? Well lots of birds including some parrots not least of which are the Green-winged Macaws.
When we first arrived it looked empty but as you start to focus in on the surrounding trees we saw a number of the macaws.
A few Blue and Gold Macaws flew over but never went into the hole so it was mainly the Green-winged Macaws. After we had been there a short while a few of them started to fly around inside the hole giving us great views from above of flying Macaws and with the sun shining on them and their calling in the enclosed area made it one of those not-to-forget encounters. They would fly in a full circle around the inside of the ‘Hole’ either singularly, in pairs or even small groups. We were hoping that they would all fly in a large group to hopefully take some more amazing photos but it was not to be however, we could not complain as this whole experience was breath taking.
Time went by quickly as we were watching these Macaws fly around and around, again and again and we needed to drive back to our hotel however, you could never get tired of watching the brilliant sights and sounds echoing from the rock sides of the ‘Hole’ so we would be back the following day.
Not wanting to pass on seeing some other sights the next day we went to Rio Prata. We were to do some snorkelling before going back to the ‘Macaw hole’ but as we arrived at the river we noticed the Peach-fronted Conures (Eupsittula aurea) on the ground and on feeders that had been put out for the local birdlife. We did not expect this so while we waited for our turn to go down the river we quickly retrieved our cameras from the mini-bus and started clicking away once again.
We could get fairly close probably because they fed them regularly but there were lots of people around most of whom did not take a second look and more likely not even looking at all as everyone was more interested in the snorkelling. As we watched these little conures which are fairly common in many places across Brazil we noticed some other parrots that appeared to be a bit shy. I am not sure whether these parrots came down to the feeders as we only observed them eating in the trees around the reception and dining areas within the Rio Prata complex. These were Yellow-faced Parrots (Alipiopsitta xanthops) a parrot that I had several sightings and photos of from previous trips to Brazil but they did not stay as long as these did here and to watch them feeding was great.
It was our turn to go on the river and, after putting our wet suits on, we set off with our guide to the river by open backed truck. We thought this was going to be an easy task snorkelling down the river but after the truck ride we had to walk through the forest for about half a mile in our wet suits to get to the river. The heat was beating down on us through the trees whilst we walked the well worn footpath and half way we crossed a small stream where our guide filled a bucket with water and dosed everyone in turn to keep them cool. In contrast this water appeared to be freezing but after the initial shock it was good to keep us from over-heating. We finally reached the river but before we could set off we had to prove we could cope with the snorkel as there were no places to get out as we went along the 2 mile route. We used our arms to direct us on the way down as the flow of the river took us with it watching the many fish species and taking note of the fallen trees underneath us gradually rotting away. It was indeed like swimming in a fish tank as advertised - I recommend it.
We had lunch here and I am pleased we did because we had to rush for our cameras again (we only took small waterproof cameras down the river) as Macaws were calling not too far away.
Green-winged Macaws but this time having some fun on a dead open topped tree probably a nest tree.
This reminded us that we had an appointment with more Macaws at Buraco das Araras so we set off to hopefully get more and maybe better photos than we did the previous day. Invariably when I go back to a place its more about the sensation of seeing the parrots and in this case macaws that keeps me so enthusiastic about my parrot passion.
Arriving at Buraco das Araras it appeared very quiet again. It was earlier than the previous day so very hot and the birds were staying under cover more so we thought we would have a walk around the perimeter on the footpath. We arrived at the second platform and not far from here were some macaws preening and staying cool. We could get extremely close so no flight shots today but some really good portrait photos.
What we did get was a group of Peach-fronted Conures that arrived in the trees at the side of the platform. It was incredible to see them in such large numbers which was only to be surpassed by what we saw in the East of Brazil on the next part of our journey which I will write about in a future article.
The group would all fly round together past the Macaws and then settle in the same trees again and again.
On the way back to Bonito we saw Yellow-faced Parrots feeding in the trees alongside the road again before spending our last night in this hotel.
Our last day in this area before going back to Campo Grande we thought we would give Buraco das Araras another try. It was not the main way back to the city but it was an alternative way and I am all for getting the most out of every day on every trip that I do so why should this be different.
However, just as we arrived the rain started and it came down rather hard. We rushed to keep our equipment under cover and it was soon evident that it was not going to stop any time soon so the decision was made to make our way back to Campo Grande. We still had chances of seeing other things as we went.
The city was different, no rain here so our guide asked if we wanted to see some of the Urban Macaws and of course we all said “Yes!!”
So off we went and we were not disappointed as we came across a pair of which one was a natural hybrid.
What a brilliant trip but now it was time to spend one night in our hotel before our onward journey to Salvador and the Lear’s Macaws but that is another story.
Thank you to my fellow travellers and a special thanks to my guide Alyson who found some real treats for us on this trip.