I’ve had a rather difficult season

by Richard Raby on February 17, 2010

I’ve had a rather difficult season. Firstly I probably worked too much in England over the northern summer months at my “other job”, and secondly I did something that I swore that I would never do………….. upon my arrival back to Brazil in September I conducted 3 trips, one after the other, that visited one of my most distant and difficult location, the Serra da Canastra. On the third of these trips we also continued on to then visit Porto Seguro in Southern Bahia, which really IS my most distant and difficult birding area presently offered. Needless to say that after over 8,000kms driven in my 4×4 Mitsubishi in under 3 months, I had to confront 3 mechanical problems. Firstly the front brake pads wore down onto the indicator warning area necessitating replacement en-route, secondly the starter motor brushes wore-out completely,without warning and stopping the vehicle. And finally an annoying rattle heard on acceleration, that started mid-way through my first trip, was finally traced to BOTH of the rear prop-shaft spider-joints with excessive wear, and requiring replacement, a part available only by special order here In Brasil, but thankfully a part that could also be run safely until the new ones arrived.

At the Serra da Canastra the main attraction, the Merganser, proved more difficult than on any other previous visits, we saw one individual on our second trip, this was on our last morning and just as we were about to give-up. As some form of compensation? the grassland species in the upper park proved, if anything, easier than ever, we got great views and even photographs of species such as Black-masked Finch, Brazilia Tapaculo, Ochre-breasted pipit and Collared Crescent-chest along with good views of Cock-tailed Tyrant and Greater Rhea on each visit. On the first two visits we saw Small-billed Tinamou and on the last two visits we also saw a number of Giant Anteater, which were surprisingly absent on the first trip, probably due to the unseasonably wet and cold weather?

Back to the mechanical problems… I suppose that the starter motor problem was the most worrisome? It required us having to bump-start the car on 3 separate occasions (before we learned the trick of tapping the starter body before turning the key), the first time this happened, at the Caetes valley, it caught us by surprise, We were on a very narrow farm track, with a violent drop-off to one side, we were on an inclined part of the “track” and our only option was to attempt a bump-start in reverse gear! To be quite honest I was more than a little apprehensive, even with my now 5 years plus experience at Taxi driving in Cambridge. We HAD to start the car upon our first attempt, the track went into a small depression before rising again behind us and the width of the track exactly matched that of our vehicle-track, the drop-off already mentioned to one side of us was a little nerve-racking to put it mildly, talk about “applying the pressure”! Surprisingly this radical starting operation went smoothly, very smoothly, a bump-start using the rear-view mirrors, with all incentive in the world to “get it right first time” and “stay on track!”, we all breathed a great sigh of relief and continued our journey on to the first town where we could get a mechanical evaluation performed, leaving a more meticulous birding-inspection of the Caetes valley to a return visit.

Next we ended-up driving around the CVRD Linhares reserve in a local hire-van, in a light drizzle which sometimes turned to rain, and, as we found-out, the best time for seeing the reserve’s prime target-species, Red-billed Curasow, there were at least 6-8 of this marvellous rarety out on the track and walking around in full view. Whilst we also walked a large stretch of the tracks, ahead of our vehicle, we “lucked-in” with fantastic views of another difficult to observe local speciality, Solitary Tinamou, which was also showing more interest in the open track than usual that day.

In Southern Bahia in early December it was hot. The best birding was restricted to the first few hours of the mornings, at Monte Pascoal even the late afternoon period proved extremely quiet. At Porto Seguro we managed to see a number of the beautiful White-winged Cotinga on one of our mornings near the CEPLAC reserve, we also got lucky with a Black-headed Berryeater (we’d missed this due to weather at linhares) that we managed to call-in just off the sandy track that traverses this private reserve. In the same region we got to know of a possible Hook-billed Hermit stake-out, and most surprisingly, for me at least, we located a bird sat above the track at the exact point that we had been told to search, we even got half decent pictures of this great rarity before it flew off vocalizing. In the same region we also got to grips with Band-tailed Antwren, Bahia Antwren and another good rarity, Golden-tailed Parrotlet. A pair remained sat in a tree on two occasions during a walk along a wide forested track.
As already stated we suffered with the heat especially in Southern Bahia, and one of our group even had problems rising for our pre-dawn departures to our birding spots, whilst there!
It was with this same group that we latter found Pinated Bittern and Rufous-collared Seedeater at Lagoa Feia, Golden-lion Tamarin at Casimiro de Abreu and Giant Snipe at Marica, upon our return to Rio State towards the end of our trip.

I arrived back at The Marica Lodge in Mid-December, absolutely shattered, but still with work to be done on my car maintenance. Luckily my first group after Xmas would not be requiring the use of my 4×4.

I have just recently returned with this larger group of 2weeks that combined Birdwatching with Butterfly photography. The group comprised of 7 North American birders who’s interests have expanded to include Neo-tropical Butterflies and they are presently involved in the task of putting together an archive and maybe a future book of field acquired butterfly photographs for identification purposes in South Eastern Brazil. On this trip we visited Intervales, Itatiaia, Ubatuba and the Serra da Bocaina. It proved to be a most interesting trip for me that re-awoke old passions of mine for neo-tropical Butterflies and Butterfly lavae and foodplants. I expect to be offering similar dual interest trips in the very near future, along with my regular specialist World-birding trips.

As I write this, my latest blogg, I’m preparing to travel on another research trip to Southern Bahia and North-Eastern Minas Gerais. I will be leaving at the end of this month and travelling alone, I expect to spend 2 weeks or more on my motorcycle getting to know a number of localities in this remote region which harbours an unusually large list of rare and endemic species. My major target species include Narrow-billed Antwren, Rio de Janeiro Antbird, Stripe-backed Antbird & Stressman’s Bristle-front. I am also hoping to find Wolly Spider-monkeys for the first time, as I start to also offer trips concentrating on both Birds and Mamals.

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