Chapada dos Veadeiros, Goiás: March 9-10, 2013

As it’s nearing the end of the rainy season in Central Brazil, I thought the time was ripe for another visit to the Chapada dos Veadeiros, an expansive protected area of Cerrado habitat located three hours north of Brasília. During the rains, the grassy depressions along the roads become seasonal marshes that harbor a variety of interesting birds, and I wanted to follow up on one particular site that Giant Snipe supposedly inhabits. There are plenty of good places to stay in the region, in both Alto Paraiso and São Jorge, but Aimee and I have developed a fondness for Pousada Vale das Araras, which is situated outside the town of Cavalcante on the northern border of the park. With peaceful cabins and an excellent private reserve, the pousada is a great place for me to get some early morning birding in while Aimee recovers from her sleep deficit.

We left Brasília in heavy traffic on Friday after work, and stopped a few hours later in Alto Paraíso for pizza and beer. A Stygian Owl often haunts the town, from what I’ve heard, but we moved on to our pousada without looking for it. The GO-118 has been resurfaced in the last year, and but for a few potholes, road depressions, and tight turns, it makes for relatively easy and safe nighttime driving. In the daytime, I’ve seen a number of great birds right from the car, including Greater Rhea, Spotted Nothura, Yellow-Faced Parrot, and Streamer-Tailed Tyrant, but tonight we saw nothing of note. I had vaguely projected spending part of the weekend in search of the endemic Pfrimer’s Parakeet, a unique Pyrrhura that that is only found in the limestone cliffs and dry forests along the border of the states of Goiás, Tocantins, and Bahia. After further inquiry, I decided I would save that search for a later trip to a nearby state park, Terra da Ronca.

I was up well before dawn on Saturday morning, listening to the Small-Billed Tinamous celebrate another day. I first crossed paths with a lovely Blond-Crested Woodpecker as I descended from the lodge to the gallery forest below. Walking the trail towards the waterfall, I quickly became aware of all the Pectoral Sparrows working the forest floor. For whatever reason, I’d overlooked this sharp-looking sparrow, and today I simply couldn’t avoid them, as family groups were seemingly hopping about everywhere in the leaf litter. Above the canopy a group of three Brown Jacamars were calling from a bare tree, while a pair of White-Naped Jays came in close to investigate me. Aimee and I had encountered several bands of these jays on our recent trip to Chapada Diamantina, but I hadn’t succeeded in photographing them until today. Endemic to the dry scrubland of Northeastern Brazil, the jay certainly resembles the Plush-Crested Jay but is distinct for its stark white color and lack of a crest. Other noteworthy observations included Chestnut-Capped Foliage-Gleaner, Pearly-Vented Tody-Tyrant, Veery, and Pale-Bellied Tyrant-Manakin.

In the afternoon, Aimee and I avoided an impending thunderstorm in Cavalcante and headed back towards Alto Paraíso to bird the rocky highlands of the park. As we stopped at a roadside marsh, she rolled down her window and alerted me to a pair of Masked Ducks partially obscured in the flooded grass a few meters away. Floored, I rushed to get a record shot with my camera before they spooked.  Once the ducks fled deeper into the surrounding vegetation, we called in a pair of Point-Tailed Palmcreepers from the stand of buriti palms nearby. While I’ve seen this unique species several times at different sites in Amazonia, this was my first record in Central Brazil. The contrast between the two localities – in the Amazon, typically a flooded depression surrounded by towering humid forest, and here a small island of dense vegetation surrounded by arid grassy fields and rocky hills – was strange to consider. Also of interest were a Southern Yellowthroat working the marsh edge and a pair of Crested Black Tyrants sallying from some roadside scrub.

We then moved on to bird the scenic road from Alto Paraíso to São Jorge, which passes through a variety of good habitat – gallery forest, campo rupestre, and campo limpo – and offers views towards striking land formations, such as the one pictured at the bottom of this website. In a marshy depression, we found dozens of Plumbeous and Yellow-Bellied Seedeaters in the tall seeding grass. I stirred up a pair of ebullient Streamer-Tailed Tyrants that did their thing right in front of Aimee, who, seeing them for the first time, was rightly amazed. More activity followed with a Greater Thornbid, Black-Faced Tanager, and Wedge-Tailed Grassfinch. Next, we drove on to explore a side road briefly before sunset, where we heard both Lesser and Spotted Nothuras calling. As dusk deepened, we finally arrived at the Giant Snipe stakeout, located in a grassy field across the road from Portal da Chapada. After a few careful passes through the grass I finally flushed one up and about 30 meters away. As it flew in a direct line from me, I noted its ample bulk and dark colored mantle while Aimee watched from the car.

Despite the explosion of soybean, corn, and wheat cultivation in the Brazilian interior, Goiás remains an excellent state for birding; however, relatively few birders visit the area, preferring instead to tick Cerrado species closer to the Amazon, in the Chapada dos Guimarães, or nearer to the Atlantic Forest, at various sites in Minas Gerais. There are a handful of Brazilian ornithologists, guides, birders, and photographers that live in the region and regularly make noteworthy observations. For example, in March last year I made the first photographic record on Wiki Aves of the Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle in the state.  Recently, Alexander Lees published an article in Cotinga 35, documenting the first observations of the Chestnut-Headed Tanager in the state, a bird long thought to be a Atlantic Forest endemic. Having recorded the tanager here in Goiás as well, I also made the following modest contribution to his article:

Subsequently, D. Kverno photographed (WA682653, 682636) a pair of P. ruficeps at Tabapuã dos Pireneus (15 deg 46’S 48 deg 48’W) in the municipality of Cocalzinho de Goiás (30 km north of Pirenopolis) on 8 July and 25 August 2012. This pair associated with a mixed flock including Saffron-billed Sparrow Arremon flavirostris, Yellow-bellied Seedeater Sporophila nigricolis and Ochre-cheeked Spinetail Synallaxis scutata, foraging in grasses in the understory of gallery forest (D. Kverno in litt. 2012).

On the way back to Cavalcante in the dark, Aimee and I stopped to admire a natural fire that had been started by lightning just a few hours ago, from the very same thunderstorm we had left town to avoid. You’ll see lots of propaganda along the roadside in the area cautioning people not to start fires for agricultural purposes, but fires are indeed a natural part of the ecosystem here in the Cerrado. As described in Birds of Brazil: The Pantanal & Cerrado of Central Brazil, “these fires prevent trees from invading open grasslands and tend to favor native grasses and wildflowers which have protective underground root systems and bulbs. Without fire, campos evolve into wooded savanna, and wooded savannas become cerradão dry forests.” Several bird species, including the Campo Miner and Coal-Crested Finch, have evolved to take advantage of these temporary ecosystems, whether to feed or to breed. While we wouldn’t have access to the burned area on the following day, in subsequent weeks it will no doubt be populated by displaying Campo Miners.

I woke up a little later the following morning, but still early enough to get in a few hours of birding before Aimee surfaced for breakfast. Opting for a different trail loop at RPPN Vale das Araras, I recorded a number of different species, including Southern Antpipit, Black-Tailed Flycatcher, Rufous Gnateater, and Rusty-Fronted Tody-Tyrant. After breakfast, Aimee and I followed a band of noisy White-Naped Jays around the pousada’s fruit and vegetable garden. All of the commotion no doubt attracted a few other birds, including Planalto Woodcreeper and Crimson-Crested Woodpecker. Our drive back to Brasília didn’t prove nearly as fruitful as the previous day, but we resolved to return to the region shortly, this time directly to Parque Estadual Terra da Ronca to search explicitly for the Pfrimer’s Parakeet. With only four months left in Brazil, it’s time to make a final push to see all of the birds of Central Brazil.

Notable birds seen: Greater Rhea, Masked Duck, Muscovy Duck, Savanna Hawk,  Giant Snipe, Peach-Fronted Parakeet, Yellow-Chevroned Parakeet, Planalto Hermit, Glittering-Bellied Emerald, Swallow-Tailed Hummingbird, Toco Toucan, Surucua Trogon, Brown Jacamar, Swallow-Winged Puffbird, Blond-Crested Woodpecker, Crimson-Crested Woodpecker, Greater Thornbird, Point-Tailed Palmcreeper, Planalto Woodcreeper, Sooty-Fronted Spinetail, Chestnut-Capped Foliage-Gleaner, Plain Antvireo, Black-Capped Antwren, Rufous Gnateater, Rusty-Fronted Tody-Flycatcher, Pearly-Vented Tody-Tyrant, Euler’s Flycatcher, Black-Tailed Flycatcher, Southern Antpipit, Social Flycatcher, Crowned Slaty Flycatcher, Rufous Cassiornis, White-Headed Marsh-Tyrant, White-Rumped Monjita, Gray Monjita, Streamer-Tailed Tyrant, Crested Black Tyrant, Pale-Bellied Tyrant-Manakin, Helmeted Manakin, White-Naped Jay, Buff-Breatsed Wren, Veery, White-Bellied Warbler, Flavescent Warbler, White-Lined Tanager, Burnished-Buff Tanager, Purple-Throated Euphonia, Gray-Headed Tanager, Buff-Throated Saltator, Pectoral Sparrow, Southern Yellowthroat, Black-Faced Tanager, Black-Throated Saltator, Shrike-Like Tanager, Plumbeous Seedeater, Gray Pileated Finch, Grassland Sparrow, Wedge-Tailed Grassfinch, Chopi Blackbird, Epaulet Oriole, Crested Oropendola.

1 comment:

Fatbirder's Top 1000 Birding Websites