Parque Nacional de Brasilia: December 30, 2011

The capital city often empties out on weekends and holidays, and during the period between Christmas and New Year’s the wise streets of Brasilia are literally empty. I figured the national park might also be devoid of crowds for once, but the regulars were there before 8am, swimming and striding around the pool in their speedos. The infrastructure in the park improved since my last visit, and the trails are now better marked, including informational placards promoting the conservation of the Cerrado. Given the recent and rapid destruction of the earth’s most biodiverse savanna (less than 20% of the original Cerrado habitat remains in Central Brazil, and only 1.5% is protected by national parks), it’s about time for the country to get the word out. The many prominently positioned signs do just that, explaining in detail how this subtle but complex ecosystem is organized and what is at stake if it’s not conserved.

This morning I walked the 5 km Trilha Cristal d’Agua, which loops through campo sujo and skirts the edge of a patch of gallery forest. Thunderheads loomed on the horizon by the time I started, and I only had a few hours to bird before the showers commenced. Noting a Laughing Falcon perched near the Visitors’ Center, I was soon onto a nice mixed flock with White-Wedged Piculet and Narrow-Billed Woodcreeper, among others. As usual, a considerable amount of pshing kept the birds relatively close and active, yielding decent photographs of the woodcreeper. A kilometer or so later, I spotted a gorgeous but shy flycatcher gleaning low among the bushes. This individual Bran-Colored Flycatcher had a rich ochre-colored head and mantle and was much more impressive looking than the depiction in the Ridgely-Tudor field guide, making me question what the color of bran really is.

I arrived at the gallery forest just before a downpour, spotting a light-morph Short-Tailed Hawk hunting just overhead, while at the forest edge a mixed flock rushed to forage for a few more minutes before the rain. Helmeted Manakin, Black-Capped Antwren, Pearly-Vented Tody-Tyrant, Tropicla Parula, Planalto Antshrike, Green-Winged Saltator, and Masked Gnatcatcher all scattered once the rain started, and I raced inside the forest to take shelter under one of the new placards. I was hoping this would be a good place for Saffron-Billed Sparrow, Brasilian Tapaculo, or Sharp-Tailed Streamcreeper, but I had no luck with playback after the rain finally ended. Meanwhile the mixed flock regrouped, and so I spent some more time sifting through the different species, always hoping for something new, whether a new species, call, or behavior. On a related note, I’ve been rereading Wilson’s Biophilia recently, who unabashedly admits: “A quiet passion burns, not for total control but for the sensation of constant advance.”

On the way out, I quickly walked the Trilha da Capivara, trolling for the same three species as above. Amazingly I had the trail all to myself, but again I heard no response from these sought-after skulkers. I did note an unusual threesome foraging on the forest floor – White-Bellied Warbler and Black-Goggled and Burnished-Buff Tanagers – behaving as if they were squabbling at an ant swarm. Speaking of which, Aimee and I are headed to Cristalino Lodge in Southern Amazonia in a few months, hoping to find a few ant swarms despite the wet weather typical in February. It’s certainly a splurge to visit there, and I wonder sometimes if we’re not rushing things (we’re only two months into a two-year tour in Brasilia). Then again, who knows when I’ll be living in the neotropics again and whether birding will even be a meaningful activity at our next post.

Notable birds seen: Whistling Heron, Short-Tailed Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Ashy-Tailed Swift, White-Wedged Piculet, Narrow-Billed Woodcreeper, Pale-Breasted Spinetail, Rufous-Winged Antshrike, Planalto Slaty Antshrike, Black-Capped Antwren, Pearly-Vented Tody-Tyrant, Bran-Colored Flycatcher, Yellow-Olive Flatbill, Fork-Tailed Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Helmeted Manakin, Masked Gnatcatcher, Tropical Parula, White-Bellied Warbler, Flavescent Warbler, Guira Tanager, Blue Dacnis, Purple-Throated Euphonia, Black-Goggled Tanager, Green-Winged Saltator, Plumbeous Seedater, Red Pileated Finch.

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