After my first trip to Brasilia National Park on a crowded Sunday afternoon, I promised myself to return shortly, this time during a weekday morning. Although I wasn’t able to enter the park until 8am, which is a park rule unless one buys a monthly pass, this trip proved much more productive and enjoyable, even if there were still plenty of people of swimming noisily in the pool and walking the Capybara Trail in their bathing suits. A birding trip to the park should definitely include time spent in both gallery forest and cerrado habitat, and the transition zone between the two is especially fruitful. Regardless of the day or the time though, I would caution anyone to expect long periods of birding solitude within the park’s boundaries; national parks bordering capital cities around the world no doubt see similar traffic.
After spending an hour in the parking lot outside the gates, picking up a male Double-Collared Seedeater among other familiar species, I quickly got geared up and hit the Capybara Trail, forgetting my hat, mosquito repellent, and water, all of which would prove costly by the early afternoon. It had rained steadily the night before, and the birds seemed slow to reestablish their routines, activity being generally low this morning. Still, within one loop of the trail, I had spotted the Helmeted Manakin, Gray-Headed Tanager, Planalto Slaty Antshrike, Sepia-Capped Flycatcher, Black-Goggled Tanager, and plenty of White-Billed Warblers.
This summer I purchased a basic speedlight for my Nikon D-80, the SB-400, so I spent some time testing its capability and range in the understory of the gallery forest. Using a flash when photographing birds is, of course, a controversial topic, but based on my brief observations the birds don’t appear to be nervous or disturbed at all by the light. From an evolutionary standpoint, there’s no reason for birds to react aversely to very brief and bright flashes of light, similar to how they aren’t frightened by moving cars; neither have posed a threat historically, so it isn’t advantageous for individual birds to flee from them. My biggest concern with using a flash when photographing birds is that the photos themselves don’t turn out well. Perhaps I just need even better equipment or simply more practice.
Once several groups of students on school field trips arrived at the pool and started racing around the Capybara Trail, I decided to try my luck on the longer trail loop, Trilha do Cristal Agua. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this dirt road passes through several kilometers of campo sujo habitat before reaching another patch of gallery forest. Along the way I first spotted a Green-Winged Saltator, probably the same one that I heard calling distinctively along the Capybara Trail, and a magnificent pair of Toco Toucans. I trolled for puffbirds the rest of the way, but didn’t see much more than a handful of open country tyrant flycatchers. Upon reaching the gallery forest, I had better looks at the Helmeted Manakin and Black Goggled-Tanager, and I fished a pair of endemic White-Striped Warblers out from undergrowth along the stream.
On the long, hot hike back to the Visitors’ Center, I finally had good looks at a male Rufous-Winged Antshrike that didn’t seem bothered by my standing directly under the tree from which it was calling. With regular pshing, I was able to coax a Pearly-Vented Tody-Tyrant into the open, as well as irritating all the Rufous-Collared Sparrows in the vicinity. By far the best observation of the day happened towards the end of the walk, when I decided that it would be a good time to try for the Collared Crescentchest, knowing from my field guide that it uncommonly inhabits bushy grassland. There was no response so I continued walking down the road after a brief wait when I suddenly encountered a gorgeous crescentchest perched out in the open. With its habitually cocked tail and generally furtive behavior, the Collared Crescentchest definitely seems to belong in the tapaculo family, but taxonomists are still struggling with its classification.
After a taking a long series of photographs, I decided to call it a day as the sirens at the park entrance were already sounding to wrest the swimmers from the pool. Despite having ticked off a handful of regional endemics, I felt a little less than satisfied with my excursion. Perhaps it was my steady use of playback and pshing throughout the day that was troubling me. Playback is usually the preferred tool of birding tours that move quickly through sites in an attempt to “deliver the birds” of each area, racking up enormous bird lists in just a few weeks. Why was I trying to see all the specialties of Central Brazil so soon if I have the next two years to encounter them naturally?
Notable birds seen: Roadside Hawk, Burrowing Owl, Toco Toucan, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Rufous-Winged Antshrike, Planalto Slaty Antshrike, Collared Crescentchest, Pearly-Vented Tody-Tyrant, Sepia-Capped Flycatcher, Yellow-Olive Flatbill, Helmeted Manakin, Buff-Breasted Wren, Masked Gnatcatcher, Pale-Breasted Thrush, White-Bellied Warbler, White-Striped Warbler, Flavescent Warbler, Guira Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Burnished-Buff Tanager, Gray-Headed Tanager, Black-Goggled Tanager, White-Lined Tanager, Green-Winged Saltator, Black-Throated Saltator, Double-Collared Seedeater.