Tabapuã dos Pireneus: September 16, 2012

It’s a dry, desolate time of year in Central Brazil. It hasn’t rained for more than three months, and the humidity barely registers 30% on most days. The air is hazy and thick with smoke from distant fires, and the sun continues to scorch the earth without the respite of cloud cover. Any strenuous activity outside must be prefaced by drinking plenty of fluids and followed by drastic rehydration measures. I’ve stopped playing basketball for the season, and birding is even becoming a real stretch, as a short trip to Tabapuã dos Pireneus this weekend left me in a dire physical state. Extreme weather conditions can sometimes lead to unusual bird activity though, and birding in the dry season also means relatively unobscured views through gallery forest because much of the foliage loses its leaves.

Repeating the routine from my last visit, I spent the first two hours after dawn along the entrance road to the state park. Several male Blue Finches could be heard calling on the rocky hillsides while the sun struggled to break through the haze on the horizon. Although this species’ preference for campo rupestre, or rocky fields, probably stems more from its feeding habits, the steep environment no doubt serves as a natural amphitheater for projecting its sweet song. One stunning male came in particularly near in response to playback, although the light could have been better. I’ve collected enough photographs of the male to fill several galleries at this point, but I have yet to track down a single female, much less photograph it. As the finch is mostly terrestrial, except when the male is calling from a perch, I’ve almost certainly come close.

As the temperature started to warm up, I descended in the car to the private reserve nearby, where there are several trails through gallery forest (oddly, the owner charged me R$15 instead of letting me in for free this time). This time I elected to take a different trail, heading to the right instead of following the Trilha Tirolesa past several waterfalls. The trees and shrubs along the water were in full bloom, and there were swarms of hummingbirds squabbling over territory, including Glittering-Bellied, Glittering-Throated, and Swallow-Tailed Hummingbirds, Horned Sungem, and Planalto Hermits, among others. I’ve seen Black Jacobin here once, and I imagine Amethyst Woodstar and several starthroat species were also present. I’ve hardly photographed a single hummingbird here in Brazil, compared to my time in Ecuador, so I thought I’d include a shot of one here, even if the species is considered very common.

Further down the trail, I became aware of a regular wing-flapping noise and eventually spotted a displaying Pale-Bellied Tyrant-Manakin. I’ve encountered this drab and inconspicuous bird in gallery and deciduous forest several times but never found a lek before. The male chose several different low horizontal lianas within a three-meter radius to display from, in which he would make several short jumps, often sometimes around 180 degrees, and then emit a brief croaking call. I did not note another displaying male in the near vicinity, but I did find another individual a few minutes down the trail. As is clear in the video below, the male’s sharp yellow crest was distinctly visible during the display; this plumage feature has been well concealed on the other occasions when I’ve observed the bird. Follow up reading in Kirwan and Green’s Cotingas and Manakins confirms that my observations were in keeping with the species’ normal display behavior; I learned that my record of this species at an ant swarm a few weeks ago at the same site also had precedent.

While I was observing the tyrant-manakin, a becard-like bird came down to investigate, revealing itself to be a Rufous Casiornis. Considering that this site has proved to a be a bastion of several Atlantic Forest species, including Pin-Tailed Manakin, Black Jacobin, and Chestnut-Headed Tanager, I thought prematurely that I had recorded a range extension for another species (I’ve only seen the Rufous Casiornis in Southeastern Brazil but it occurs regularly in the region according to field guide). When an unusual looking male Blue Dacnis then had me mistakenly thinking I had found a vagrant Black-Legged Dacnis, I figured that I was starting to lose my mind from heat exhaustion. Indeed, by noon it had become so dry and hot that I was worried the leaf litter would spontaneously combust. It was time to retreat to the air conditioning of my car for the drive home, but not before I made a few more ticks on the way back, including Saffron-Billed Sparrow, Ochre-Cheeked Spinetail, and Epaulet Oriole.

Driving home along the BR-070 past pockets of gallery forest that line the crevices of the hilly terrain, I thought about the female Harpy Eagle that was recently shot down in the area by a farmer. It had been forty years since the last record of the species in the state of Goiás, and biologists are speculating that this female had descended from the Amazon region through the Araguaia River corridor in efforts to find enough forest in which to establish a territory. Amazingly, the wounded eagle is now on the road to recovery and eating rats, and will probably be able to fly again thanks to the watchful care of several veterinarians. Releasing it back into the wild appears less likely, according to the report in Correio Braziliense, and it will probably end up in a zoo or raptor refuge, much like Parque Condor in the northern highlands of Ecuador. These dreary reflections seemed to fit the bleakness of the day.

Notable birds seen: Buff-Necked Ibis, Aplomado Falcon, White-Tipped Dove, Red-Shouldered Macaw, Peach-Fronted Parakeet, Squirrel Cuckoo, Planalto Hermit, Fork-Tailed Woodnymph, Glittering-Bellied Emerald, Glittering-Throated Emerald, White-Vented Violetear, Horned Sungem, Channel-Billed Toucan, Little Woodpecker, Narrow-Billed Woodcreeper, Pale-Breasted Spinetail, Ochre-Cheeked Spinetail, Streaked Xenops, Variable Antshrike, Campo Suiriri, Pearly-Vented Tody-Tyrant, Tropical Pewee, Long-Tailed Tyrant, Rufous Casiornis, Sepia-Capped Flycatcher, Bran-Colored Flycatcher, Fork-Tailed Flycatcher, White-Rumped Monjita, Brown-Crested Flycatcher, Short-Crested Flycatcher, Pale-Bellied Tyrant-Manakin, Helmeted Manakin, White-Rumped Swallow, Buff-Breasted Wren, Masked Gnatcatcher, Flavescent Warbler, Guira Tanager, Burnished-Buff Tanager, Swallow-Tanager, White-Lined Tanager, White-Rumped Tanager, Green-Winged Saltator, Black-Throated Saltator, Blue Finch, Grassland Sparrow, Saffron-Billed Sparrow, Epaulet Oriole.

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