quinta-feira, dezembro 29, 2011

Birding Innuendo in Brazil - III

On the previous chapter we got a first glimpse at some of the common birds you can find in an urban area in SE Brazil and in the surrounding rural areas. Today I will continue to report on my trip, which will now take us from the inland city of Campinas to the beautiful island of Ilha Bela, on the coast of São Paulo state.

En route to the coast
Ilha Bela is roughly 250 km (and a short ferry ride) away from Campinas. On the road you cross a landscape where the few remaining small patches of Atlantic forest are interwoven with agricultural grasslands, pastures and plantations. Although a fast moving car is not an ideal setting for bird-watching, I kept my eyes open, and a couple of stops at roadside gas stations or restaurants offered some chances to see the local avifauna.
My first sighting of the day was the southern lapwing Vanellus chilensis, a very common wader on agricultural grasslands. Later, I found my first saffron finch Sicalis flaveola during a short rest-stop, an unmistakable bird with its bright yellow plumage and orangey face. The trip offered two other spectacular birds: the fork-tailed flycatcher Tyrannus savana, with its impossibly long tail streamers; and one of the very symbols of Brazil, the toco toucan Ramphastos toco. The toco toucan is the largest of all toucan species, at 55-65 cm long. They are relatively common in most of Brazil, but never really abundant, so you are likely to see these birds while travelling around the country, but you can never really predict where you will see one. The flight silhouette of these birds seems odd at best, the wings seem to be placed too far back in their body and the bill resembles a large banana stuck on their forehead!

Fork-tailed flycatcher Tyrannus savana (photo from wikipedia.org)
Ilha Bela
I spent three days in Ilha Bela. Although I did spend most of my time basking in the sun on one of its beautiful beaches, I did keep my eyes open for birds. The island is basically a mountain that emerges from the ocean, so that only a small strip along the coast in flat enough to be populated, while the rest of the island is only accessible by dirt tracks and mostly covered with tropical forests. From the beaches you can easily spot brown boobies Sula leucogaster, neotropical cormorants Phalacrocorax brasilianus and the ever-present magnificent frigatebird Fregata magnificens, and I have to say it was a big surprise to find that the frigatebirds often form mixed flocks with black vultures, using the same ascending air currents to hover effortlessly in search of food. The other surprise was to find that unlike on the shores of Europe or North America, gulls are not common on this part of South America. In fact, it took me two days until I found my first kelp gull Larus dominicanus. Along the shores of the island it is also easy to find snowy egrets Egretta thula and, with a bit more luck, spotted sandpipers Actitis macularius. I actually spotted my first and only spotted sandpiper while kayaking along a rocky inlet.
The local beaches are also an excellent spot to identify the various swifts and swallows that occur on the island, including the southern rough-winged swallow Stelgidopteryx ruficollis, the grey-breasted martin Progne chalybea, the brown-chested martin Progne tapera, the sooty swift Cypseloides fumigatus and also the rather cosmopolitan bank swallow Riparia riparia.

Magnificent frigatebird Fregata magnificens (photo from waatp.nl)
Walking along the forest edge, or even on the streets of the local villages, I managed to add several more species to my list. Open grassy areas will often have a few masked water-tyrants Fluvicola nengeta, desperately displaying to impress potential mates, and the luxuriant trees offer a perfect setting to find bananaquits Coereba flaveola, white-eyed parakeets Aratinga leucophtalmus and yellow-lored tody-flycatchers Todirostrum poliocephalum. Along the roads and dirt tracks, while walking from one village to the next I found rufous-bellied thrushes Turdus rufiventris, which I later found to be one of the most common species throughout the trip. This was also the case with the beautiful and vocal tropical kingbird Tyrannus melancholicus. It was also on the side of a road that I spotted my first double-collared seedeater Sporophila caerulescens, a tinny bird with a striking bi-coloured plumage. On the main square of the town of Ilha Bela I had my best sighting of the maroon-bellied parakeet Pyrrhura frontalis, with their yellow-scaled chest, brown belly and white eye-ring.
Finally, I have to talk about hummingbirds. These birds are absolutely extraordinary, both because of their amazing colours, there unique way of flying and their extreme adaptation to their nectar-feeding way of living. However, I found them a very hard challenge for someone while virtually no experience in identifying these tinny and super-fast birds. Despite these difficulties I eventually managed to identify two species, both while laying on a hammock in front of my hostel. First I spotted a black jacobin Florisuga fusca, which is easily identified by its dark colour and white flank... that is when you finally manage to find it with your binoculars! It took me much longer to identify my second hummer, the fork-tailed woodnymph Thalurania furcata. One of the reasons why it took me so long was because Ilha Bela is outside the "official" breeding range of this species, which according to the books is not supposed to occur along the eastern coast of Brazil. So I only settled on my final identification as a fork-tailed woodnymph when I was absolutely sure that it not only had a clearly fork-tailed and green upper body, but also that it had a blue chest and green back, and no hint of blue or violet on its cap, thus discriminating this bird from the two other woodnymphs that occur in Brazil.

Fork-tailed woodnymph Thalurania furcata (photo from oiseaux.net)
This was about it for my time in Ilha Bela. On the next chapter of my Birding Innuendo in Brazil we will travel inland to try and find some birds in and around the historic colonial towns of Minas Gerais and their natural surroundings.

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