Tabapuã dos Pireneus: August 25, 2012

A good birding site in Central Brazil should include a variety of habitat, principally Cerrado of some type as well as gallery forest. Taken together, the state park and the private reserve of Tabapuã dos Pireneus, located just outside of Cocalzinho, Goiás, offer gallery forest and deciduous woodland, campo limpo, campo rupestre, Cerrado sensu stritu, and agricultural fields. A full day of birding exploring tese different habitats should yield approximately one hundred bird species, a few of which are restricted to the Atlantic Forest region and only occur in small islands of forest in the interior of Brazil. While it’s not quite as dramatic as Chapada dos Veadeiros, it’s significantly closer to Brasília and still offers some scenic views.

I left home on Saturday morning well before 5am and arrived at the entrance to the state park at dawn, where a chilly wind was blowing up from the valley. Foolishly, I had forgotten to bring long sleeve clothing, and I was forced to bird from the warmth of the car for the first hour until the air temperature warmed up. It’s technically winter in Brazil right now, and while that probably doesn’t mean much along the coast, where the ocean regulates the temperature, it can get downright cold in Central Brazil, especially in the Pantanal, where it sometimes drops near the freezing point. With all the wind, I didn’t see or hear much on the drive until I returned to the rocky summit near the entrance of the park (hours 8am-5pm, no entrance fee).

A pair of Crested Black-Tyrants along the roadside beckoned me to stop and get out of the car finally, where I encountered a nice variety of singing birds, including Black-Throated Saltator, Wedge-Tailed Grassfinch, Chopi Blackbird, and White-Eared Puffbird. Then, a Bran-Colored Flycatcher caught my eye, as it sallied out for insects from very low perches in the shrubby grassland. In the right light, this complexly hued bird can almost appear reddish, although in this photograph its name is pretty accurate. After noting a Horned Sungem, I tried playing tape for the Blue Finch, a flagship bird of the Cerrado that supposedly prefers rocky hillsides. Sure enough, two irritated males flew in close from upslope. The Portuguese common name for this beauty is Campainha-Azul, or Blue Bell.

At about 8am I decided it was an appropriate hour to arrive at the private reserve without advance notice, but not before I ogled a pair of Red-Legged Seriema striding along the entrance road to the state park. This pair reminded so much of the Secretary Birds that Aimee and I had marveled at in the Serengeti, that I experienced a tinge of saudades, a Portuguese/Brazilian concept that best translates to the concept of longing, for East Africa (I didn’t experience any longing for the rats and gigantic cockroaches we experienced in Tanzania, though). The fazenda was booked full judging by all the cars in the parking lot, but the woman at the reception was happy to let me in without charging a fee, as birder are very much welcome (the owner himself is an avid bird photographer).

In fact, I encountered another bird photographer just as I plunged into the gallery forest, who said he hadn’t seen much except for some macaws, probably the four Blue-and-Yellow Macaws I had just seen flying overhead. I was a bit incredulous, but we graciously bid each other good luck and good day, as I headed up the Trilha Tirolesa, which leads to a popular zip line platform up the hill. It was looking like the old guy was right after all, as I didn’t see much except for some Saffron-Billed Sparrows until I summited the first waterfall, where the understory became considerably more lush. Here I had another encounter with a male Chestnut-Headed Tanager, but it was so shy and retiring that I failed to capture even a record shot (my first visit to the reserve yielded only the second photographic record of this bird of Southeastern Brazil in Goiás, according to Wiki Aves).

Patience and persistence resulted in good looks at a female Pin-Tailed Manakin, another Atlantic Forest species, Ochre-Cheeked Spinetail, and Tataupa Tinamou, which wasn’t calling but feeding in the leaf litter inside deciduous forest, well outside the typical habitat of the similar looking Small-Billed Tinamou. A pair of calling Eastern Sirystes encouraged me to inspect the canopy, where I noted a roosting Common Potoo, my first observation of this species in Brazil. Listening to the other guests screaming down the zip line as I made my way back down the trail, I came upon an unusually active group of birds in the understory. The attraction turned out to be an antswarm, and I spent the next two hours photographing typically timid birds at very close range.

In particular, a male Helmeted Manakin blew my mind on multiple occasions, perching so close to me that my telephoto lens was rendered useless. This common but spectacular bird of gallery and deciduous forest normally maintains a relatively high perch in the understory, and almost all photographs of the species are taken from below; however, on this occasion, I had several opportunities to fire away while looking down at the bird, showing the considerable extent of red plumage on its mantle. I also photographed the Gray-Headed Tanager, Pale-Bellied Manakin, and Planalto Woodcreeper from up close as most of the birds became accustomed to my presence and routinely allowed me to approach to within two meters. Most memorable though was a gorgeous Chestnut-Capped Foliage-Gleaner tossing around the leaf litter at the edge of the swarm.

Notable birds seen: Red-Legged Seriema, Tataupa Tinamou, Buff-Necked Ibis, Aplomado Falcon, White-Tipped Dove, Blue-and-Yellow Macaw, Squirrel Cuckoo, Guira Cuckoo, Burrowing Owl, Common Potoo, White-Vented Violetear, Horned Sungem, Rufous-Capped Motmot, Rufous-Tailed Jacamar, White-Eared Puffbird, Channel-Billed Toucan, Little Woodpecer, White-Wedged Piculet, Planalto Woodcreeper, Pale-Breasted Spinetail, Ochre-Cheeked Spinetail, Chestnut-Capped Foliage-Gleaner, Plain-Antvireo, Rufous Gnateater, Campo Suiriri, Sepia-Capped Flycatcher, Bran-Colored Flycatcher, Fork-Tailed Flycatcher, White-Rumped Monjita, Crested Black-Tyrant, Eastern Sirystes, Brown-Crested Flycatcher, Pale-Bellied Tyrant-Manakin, Helmeted Manakin, Pint-Tailed Manakin, White-Rumped Swallow, Moustached Wren, Masked Gnatcatcher, Flavescent Warbler, Guira Tanager, Burnished-Buff Tanager, Chestnut-Headed Tanager, Swallow-Tanager, Gray-Headed Tanager, Black-Goggled Tanager, White-Lined Tanager, Green-Winged Saltator, Black-Throated Saltator, Blue Finch, Grassland Sparrow, Wedge-Tailed Grassfinch, Saffron-Billed Sparrow.

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