Parque Nacional da Chapada dos Veadeiros is the nearest significant reserve to Brasilia, and I had long romanticized about birding its rocky wilderness, which is home to standout Cerrado specialties such as the Blue Finch, Horned Sungem, and Brazilian Merganser. The park is famous for its steep cliffs, high waterfalls, and big skies, and its 650 square kilometers encompass all the different varieties of Cerrado habitat, especially campo rupestre. Access to the park itself is through a single entrance near the village of Sao Jorge, although some visitors chose to stay at Alto Paraiso instead, which is located along the main highway. While the park boasts several impressive tourist attractions, guided excursions are mandatory, and most birders prefer instead to explore the various private reserves bordering the park.
With access to a car for the holiday weekend, Aimee and I decided it was finally time to visit the region, even though the wet weather didn’t bode well for finding the Brazilian Merganser. Instead of rolling the dice in the park, I opted to stay at a pousada on the northern side near the town of Cavalcante, which is 90 km past Alto Paraiso. In doing so we would hopefully avoid a rowdy New Year’s celebration, finding some peace and quiet instead. The tranquil Pousada Vale das Araras protects approximately 40 hectares of gallery forest, and the surrounding hills and cliffs are blanketed with undisturbed Cerrado habitat. The owner enjoys birding himself and is eager to point out avian attractions along the trails of the reserve as well as on the grounds of the pousada, which are landscaped with native plants that beckon a variety of parrots, toucans, tanagers, flycatchers, and hummingbirds.
I’ve already spent a fair amount of time birding in gallery forest in Central Brazil, but a few casual walks along the trails yielded a number of new species for me. The transition habitat along the beginning of the trail network has relatively few tall trees, but the dense groundcover holds a number of inconspicuous bird species, including Undulated Tinamou, Chestnut-Capped, or Henna-Capped, Foliage-Gleaner, and Pale-Bellied Tyrant-Manakin, all of which I saw reasonably well (there’s a bit of a disagreement concerning the English common name for the foliage-gleaner, as the Ridgely-Tudor revision has seemingly failed to catch on). Aimee and I also had great looks at a male Helmeted Manakin along this stretch, which perched for a prolonged period at eye level after playback. This area was particularly good for mixed flocks, with Orange-Headed Tanager, Rufous-Tailed Jacamar, and Green-Winged Saltator among the highlights, and I had a brief encounter with a Veery as well as a Planalto Hermit here, too.
Around the chalets there were a number of fruiting trees attracting Chestnut-Eared Aracari, Purple-Throated Euphonia, and Yellow-Chevroned and Peach-Fronted Parakeets, all of which created quite a din during the otherwise quiet afternoon hours. The midday rain slowed activity down as well, and I took it easy for once, choosing to catch up on my reading. In a recent edition of the New Yorker, there is a fascinating article on reforestation in Central Africa that highlights the recent grassroots success in Niger and lambasts the idea of a Great Green Wall of trees fencing in the Sahara Desert. Ultimately, the article suggests that there is no correct method for fighting the worldwide battle against desertification, only regional solutions that take into account the different financial, natural, and human resources available in each country, be it China, Oman, or Burkina Faso. Despite its still considerable rate of deforestation (in 2004 it was the highest in the world), Brazil wasn’t even mentioned.
The following morning I had planned for us to explore more of the park itself, but the weather was poor and it continued to rain through the afternoon. We stopped a few times along the road between Calvalcante and Alto Paraiso, looking for Cock-Tailed Tyrant in the larger sections of campo limpo, but bird activity was practically nonexistent. A pair of White-Rumped Monjitas braved the high winds along the highway, and we also found a flock of scarce Yellow-Faced Parrots along the road to Sao Jorge. The latter road is only partially paved, and once the asphalt ran out, I decided to turn our compact car around and return to Brasilia. We would simply have to explore the park itself on another visit, although it was a shame to come all this way and not even once troll for Blue Finch in the rocky terrain. Pousada Portal da Chapada, located at kilometer 9 along the road to Sao Jorge, will almost certainly be my first destination on our next visit. Brazilian bird guide Rafael Teixeira, who can be contacted at email@example.com, is reportedly a good resource for searching for the merganser, a mission that is best undertaken during the dry season.
Notable birds seen: Undulated Tinamou, Yellow-Chevroned Parakeet, Peach-Fronted Parakeet, Yellow-Faced Parrot, Planalto Hermit, Rufous-Tailed Jacamar, Black-Fronted Nunbird, Chestnut-Eared Aracari, Toco Toucan, Narrow-Billed Woodcreeper, Henna-Capped Foliage-Gleaner, Plain Antvireo, Black-Capped Antwren, Sepia-Capped Flycatcher, Ochre-Lored Flatbill, Southern Antpipit, Bran-Colored Flycatcher, Pale-Bellied Tyrant-Manakin, White-Rumped Monjita, Black-Tailed Tityra, Helmeted Manakin, Veery, White-Bellied Warbler, Flavescent Warbler, Orange-Headed Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Purple-Throated Euphonia, Swallow Tanager, Green-Winged Saltator, Black-Throated Saltator, Crested Oropendola.