Because of my admiration for birds, I had the opportunity to meet fantastic people and places, which changed me as a person. The constant search for the observation of highly threatened species blessed me with knowledge. Furthermore, during these trips, I had the opportunity to be in contact with many cultures, protected areas, and many new species.
Bird watching/photography is one of the fastest-growing nature activities on Earth. There are over 10,000 bird species known. Most of them are pursued by millions of birdwatchers around the world. Each of those people have their own way to birdwatching. For some, simply observing through binoculars is enough. On the other hand, people like me prefer to perpetuate the moment through photography. Each new species is called Lifer. Although the experience of meeting a new species is fantastic, I am always looking for something more, the so-called Lifetime Experience – enjoying the birds and other life forms, the landscape, and the local culture. I had incredible and unforgettable experiences, and today, I consider myself a wealthier person in adventures, emotions, and memories. Here, I will briefly describe some of these experiences.
Crossing Brazil: Biomes
This is the largest hydrographic basin in the world, whose vegetation can be classified as Terra firme, Várzea, and Igapó forests. The Amazon Forest extends over nine countries in South America, with its largest portion located in Brazil, occupying about 60% of the territory and the states of Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima, and Tocantins. I made six trips to the state of Amazonas, visited Rondônia, Mato Grosso and Tocantins.
In Amazonas state, I visited several cities and had the pleasure to picture their birds. In Novo Airão, I sailed along the Negro River until I got to the Anavilhanas, the second-largest archipelago in the world (composed of 381 islands). Currently, the Anavilhanas National Park is considered a Natural Heritage Site of Humanity and a Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO). There, in addition to contemplating the local beauties, the purpose of the trip was to photograph the Wire-tailed Manakin (Pipra filicauda), which landed six meters from me, causing my legs to weaken briefly. In Manaus, I witnessed the meeting between Solimões and Negro rivers (where the Amazon River begins). There, I got to know the Várzea and Igapó forests. I also visited the Amazon Museum Tower, where I took one of my favorite shots of the Guianan Toucanet (Selenidera piperivora). Finally, in Presidente Figueiredo, a municipality famous for its waterfalls and caves, I got a good shot of the Guianan Cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola rupicola), a bird found in humid forests close to rock formations that provide nesting areas.
In the city of Alta Floresta (Mato Grosso state), I sailed along the Teles Pires and Cristalino rivers, and it was through those places that I knew the large and exuberant Amazon rainforest as I had imagined. On this occasion, I stayed at Cristalino Jungle Lodge, where the birdwatching infrastructure is fantastic, with two towers and many other facilities.
My main target on this trip was the Orange-cheeked Parrot (Pyrilia barrabandi), a very skittish bird and hardly seen. Imagine my reaction when it landed less than ten meters from me!
This Biome runs through much of the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil, reaching the interior. The Atlantic Forest has been resilient, even after 500 years of deforestation (more than 90% of its native vegetation has been devastated). It still harbors a large sample of the world’s biodiversity. The largest remnants of the Atlantic Forest are amongst the wealthier regions of the country (e.g., the state of São Paulo), which favors the offering of better structuring for birdwatching. I strongly recommend the Intervales State Park and Trilha dos Tucanos (both in Sao Paulo state).
The endemic and endangered Juçara palm tree (Euterpe edulis) is essential for large seed dispersers. Species like the Black-fronted Piping-Guan (Pipile jacutinga) are the true “gardeners of the forest”. It feeds on the fruits of Juçara and can be seen quite easily in the parks mentioned above.
The Red-spectacled Parrot (Amazona pretrei) is an endemic bird of Brazil, occurring in only two states of the southern region. The species breeds in the state of Rio Grande do Sul. However, during the maturation season (mainly between March and July) of Parana Pine seeds (Araucaria angustifolia), it is possible to observe more than 20 thousand individuals gathered in the city of Urupema (state of Santa Catarina).
The quest to observe this species is an experience that can indeed be called Lifer. A true feast for all the senses: for the vision, on account of the spectacle; hearing, for the racket caused by more than a thousand birds perched on a single tree; palate, for the possibility of tasting the same seed on which these birds feed.
I was photographing one of those large groups when a vehicle passed on the road and startled them. The movement of all those wings flying together made my body vibrate, and I was almost pushed back.
The name “Caatinga” has Tupi-Guarani origin and means “white forest” due to its vegetation whose leaves fall during the dry season. It is restricted to the northeast region of Brazil and presents many endemic and beautiful birds. Many of them are endangered, mainly due to habitat loss and hunting. The Spix Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) is a sad example of a bird native to the Caatinga that has gone extinct in the wild indeed.
I took a trip to meet and photograph “the bird of my life”, the Indigo Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari). I have never been so moved by any other bird since I discovered its history (the species was considered extinct for over 100 years until it was rediscovered in 1978). From planning to the arrival, the trip to Canudos (state of Bahia) was not easy at all. We drove to the top of the sandstone walls where the macaws live, around four in the morning, and in the first rays of dawn, we heard many individuals calling, echoing loudly, and transforming hearing into feeling.
When this species was rediscovered, there were less than 250 individuals in the wild. Thanks to great e !orts for its conservation (including by the Brazilian government), there are more than 1,500 individuals in the wild today. I highlight the work of Fundação Biodiversitas and Instituto Arara Azul.
The emotion of seeing the Indigo Macaws in the wild was so great that I returned to Canudos twice more. In these other visits, I was able to get to the place of its “rediscovery”, the Terra Branca farm (Jeremoabo municipality, state of Bahia), which is located just in the middle of the Raso da Catarina (another stunning scenario in Brazil).
Known as the Brazilian savannah, it covers a good part of the central-west region of the country and the so-called open diagonal (which also includes the Caatinga).
Searching for another bird of the Psittacidae family, I had the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, the Terra Ronca National Park, in Goiás, right in the heart of Brazil. In addition to the thrill of observing Pfrimer’s Parakeet (Pyrrhura pfrimeri), I could also see other parrots that live in the region, such as the Blue-and-yellow Macaw (Ara ararauna) and the Red-and-green Macaw (Ara chloropterus). The Pfrimer’s Parakeet is strongly associated with the dry forest habitat of Central Brazil. This type of environment has suffered extensive deforestation, threatening the species.
In Patrocínio (Mina Gerais state), I followed a couple of Brazilian Mergansers (Mergus octosetaceus) that had their nest monitored. This bird is very selective about water quality (which needs to be necessarily running) and is considered critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation (IUCN). The Zooparque Itatiba project has been successful in the captive breeding of the species.
In the state of Tocantins, I looked for the Kaempfer’s Woodpecker (Celeus obrieni) near the Canguçu Natural Heritage Private Reserve, which is in an ecotone (transition zone) between three biomes: the Cerrado, the Atlantic Forest, and the Amazon rainforest. Nearby, I saw the dawn on Bananal Island, on the banks of the Javaés River, which gave me new and exciting encounters with the Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin), Agami Heron (Agamia agami), and several others.
In Chapada Diamantina National Park, a postcard of the state of Bahia, the predominant biome is the Caatinga. However, there are also some Cerrado patches. In some of these fragments, you can see flowers and endemic birds interact, such as the magnificent Hooded Visorbearer (Augastes lumachella) and the Calliandra (Calliandra mucugeana), which yielded beautiful experiences and images.
This Biome is considered the largest flooded plain in the world. It comprises part of the states of Mato Grosso, and Mato Grosso do Sul. Although its diversity is relatively lower than in other biomes, such as the Atlantic Forest and the Amazon rainforest, the abundance of species favors observation of the fauna in the Pantanal.
Countless birds and mammals of different species, including the Hyacinth Macaw (Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus), Jaguar (Panthera onca), and the Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis).
Much of the southern region of Brazil is occupied by the Pampa biome, which enchants with its beautiful plains, This biome is not restricted to mere political borders, extending outside Brazil, towards Uruguay and Argentina.
The Espinilho State Park is located in Barra do Quaraí (state of Rio Grande do Sul), between Brazil and Uruguay. This is an astonishing place, with very distinctive and endemic vegetation. It is one of the few places in Brazil where we can see the Yellow Cardinal (Gubernatrix cristata), a bird which I photographed in Esteros de Iberá, Argentina. There, I also pictured the rare and endangered Strange-tailed Tyrant (Alectrurus risora) and several species of Seedeaters, among them, my favorite, Chestnut Seedeater (Sporophila cinnamomea).
Coastal marine region
It is a transition zone between continental and marine ecosystems. Mangroves and Restinga (vegetation type of the Atlantic Forest which covers part of coastal regions) are restricted to this region. Passionate about the sea, I made many trips searching for its birds.
One of the best places to photograph shorebirds in Brazil is Lagoa do Peixe, in Tavares (the Rio Grande do Sul state). There, lots of species stop to feed or migrate from the Northern Hemisphere to enjoy the heat provided by the tropics. I visited this place trying to get some shots of the Red Knot (Calidris canutus) in its nuptial plumage, which luckily, we can see in Brazil from April onwards. The plumage changing happens just before the species migrate to Canadian Tundra for reproduction and spending the winter in Tierra Del Fuego after that. It finishes its migration in Patagonia (an archipelago located at the southern tip of South America, where the Pacific and Atlantic oceans meet).
There is a joke among birdwatchers that orders two kinds of people: those who have observed an albatross and those who have not. I am glad to be part of the first group after have pictured one of my favorite – the Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos).
Fernando de Noronha is a volcanic island with stunning beaches. There, you can easily observe dolphins, sharks, turtles, and of course, one of the largest colonies of seabirds in Brazil.
I planned to go to Noronha to see the beaches and a lot of birds, but one was very desired, the Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) , and it was very nice to arrive in one of the most beautiful beaches of the island, and see them diving. People entered the water to go snorkeling, and I saw that they didn’t stop throwing themselves at water, close to them.
So I decided to enter the waters and stood with the water till my thigh, because of the small waves (and my photographic equipment, not waterproof, and it got a little wet, like me) .
I got the experience of them diving very close to me, and because of the crystal clear water, I could see them underwater and felt the splashes raised with each dive of these birds. While I was distracted by the Brown Booby’s skimming, I was surprised by a small Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris) of about 1 meter long, that passed through my leg. On the same island, I was able to watch two couples of Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus) taking turns to look after their nests “from the cabin”.
Having the opportunity to get to know my country and its biomes is a great privilege. I will always be grateful to the photography experiences for gifting me with many beautiful moments.
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