The rainy season has definitely begun in earnest in the Planalto, and so I was lucky to spend a relatively dry morning at the Jardim Botanico. Although I had made several visits to the park previously, this was my first morning birding at the site, which encompasses both dry forest and shrubby grassland. It’s a good place to get your feet wet in the cerrado if you can’t make it out to the larger national parks in the region. Visitors are welcome to walk the trails starting around 6:30am, but cars aren’t permitted inside until after 9am. Given its location in the wealthy southern suburb of Lago Sul, the park is typically frequented by joggers and bikers, although it’s far from ever being crowded. While I’ve heard rumors that there have been muggings there in the past, all signs indicate that this is a safe and inexpensive birding site (2 reais).
I spent the first few hours after dawn walking from the principal entrance gate towards the Mirante, or lookout tower. A few mixed flocks yielded Guira Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Yellow-Olive Flatbill, Sepia-Capped Flycatcher, Black-Goggled Tanager, Red-Eyed Vireo, and Black-Capped Antwren. It’s certainly worth learning the antwren’s call, as it appears to be common in both dry and gallery forest and highly vocal during the morning. I spent some extra time wrestling with the identification of several indistinctive tyrant flycatchers, having loaded up my iPod with the different calls and songs of Elaenias and other cryptic species, but to little avail. Birding in the neotropics is not just about marveling over colorful manakins and cotingas, I caution. Speaking of which, I also noted several female Helmeted Manakins foraging with the mixed flocks.
Reaching the grasslands, I found a few pairs of Rufous-Winged Antshrikes, spotted a Plumbeous Seedeater in the distance, and startled a Wedge-Tailed Grassfinch nearby. There were a number of flowering shrubs in bloom, and the hummingbirds were busy squabbling over territories, including the dominant Swallow-Winged Hummingbird, White-Vented Violetear, and Glittering-Throated and Glittering-Bellied Emeralds. From the Mirante I hoped to catch a glimpse of a Greater Rhea or Red-Legged Sereima and took a few minutes to relax in the shade. From here you can see both the well-organized capital city of Brasilia and several of its less visionary satellite cities. The writer of the recent 36 Hours in Brasilia article in the New York Times put it well when he concluded, “if Brasilia is a modern Brazilian dream, Ceilandia [a satellite city] is modern Brazilian reality.”
Continuing towards the Visitor’s Center, I stopped for the Shrike-Like Tanager (the name says it all) and Red-Pileated Finch, which I’ve seen every time I’ve birded the Botanical Gardens (supposedly it’s uncommon, but it might just be hard to see as it feeds on the ground in tall grass). Southern Crested Caracaras flew high overhead while a Roadside Hawk perched in the open. Then, I heard a harsh call in the distance that sounded vaguely jay-like, and, confirming that it was the Curl-Crested Jay, reeled a pair of them into a tree overhead with my iPod. These bold and impressive birds scolded me justly before moving on (I still can’t resist using playback to see, and photograph, as many birds as possible). In general, I’m definitely starting to get a better grasp of the birds of the cerrado but am still missing some common characteristic species, such as the White-Rumped and Hooded Tanagers, Caatinga and White-Eared Puffbirds, and quite a few parrot species. Learning the calls is painfully slow, as always.
Bird activity slowed considerably by late morning, and the burgeoning cumulonimbus clouds promised an early afternoon rain. I managed to find a White-Wedged Piculet tapping quietly away on a twig but saw little else of note during my last hour of birding. Caatinga Puffbirds were apparently calling in the far distance but didn’t approach with playback. Despite seeing a number of new birds this morning, I still feel that the site is holding back from me a little bit. Perhaps the beginning of the rainy season is a particularly quiet time for birds in the cerrado, or maybe I’ve simply been unlucky. At any rate, the park is a convenient place for careful study, and after a few more visits I should be in good shape for birding one of the larger national parks of the region, including Chapada dos Veadeiros.
Notable birds seen: Roadside Hawk, Southern Crested Caracara, Squirrel Cuckoo, White-Vented Violetear, Swallow-Tailed Hummingbird, Glittering-Throated Emerald, Glittering-Bellied Hummingbird, White-Wedged Piculet, Green-Barred Woodpecker, Rufous-Winged Antshrike, Black-Capped Antwren, Sepia-Capped Flycatcher, Yellow-Olive Flatbill, Variegated Flycatcher, Helmeted Manakin, Curl-Crested Jay, Buff-Breasted Wren, Red-Eyed Vireo, White-Bellied Warbler, Flavescent Warbler, Guira Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Burnished-Buff Tanager, Black-Goggled Tanager, Shrike-Like Tanager, Plumbeous Seedeater, Red-Pileated Finch, Wedge-Tailed Grassfinch.