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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Brazil: Marvelous Mato Grosso

The Pantanal, Chapada dos Guimarães, and Cristalino Jungle Lodge

2023 Narrative

IN BRIEF: So many species, so many highlights, and so many wonderful memories were the result of this year’s Marvelous Mato Grosso tour. For some, more than half of the over 500 species of birds we saw were lifers, while for others some exciting lifebird milestones were reached – 2000 for Dan Toweill and 6000 for Cathy Pasterczyk. Memorable bird sightings in the Chapada dos Guimarães National Park, where we started the tour, included Dot-eared Coquette, a very rare Chaco Eagle, our first of many handsome King Vultures, and amazing Red-legged Seriemas (the latter receiving many votes among the tour’s favorites). We then moved on to Cristalino Lodge in the Amazonian north of the state, where the hands-down favorite of the tour was the Harpy Eagle perched quietly in a tree less than 50 meters from where we first had been distracted by a mob of tanagers, tyrannulets, flycatchers, and hummingbirds. We watched it for over 15 minutes, admiring its bushy crest and short, massively thick legs and toes. Though jungle birding can be difficult, most of the tour’s favorites were at Cristalino – the Bare-eyed Antbirds at the bird bath; the Pompadour Cotinga and Curl-crested Aracaris from the towers; Eastern Striolated-Puffbird and White-necked Jacobin on the Serra; and the Bare-faced Curassows wandering the grounds near our rooms. We saw some wonderful birds in the Pantanal as well, such as Southern Screamers with chicks, several Green-and-rufous Kingfishers, and the incredible Hyacinth Macaws, the latter a close second-favorite bird of the tour. But the Jaguars certainly stole the show this time, with eight unforgettable animals. It helped that we had a super skilled boatman named Marcelo Arruda, who also had sharp eyes for spotting large cats on the bank. Our group was the first to get photos of Ibaca’s second cub from last fall (it was thought that she had only one), so we got to name it – and we chose Ipepo, the Guaraní word for “wings.” But we also watched the rarely-seen event of a six-year-old Pixána catch a capybara; her 22 seconds under water has us filled with suspense and wonder. And then the finale was noticing two-year-old Kasimir only when he leapt up out of the water onto a fallen tree that was only 10 meters from our boat. One of our tours last year saw him with his brother and mother, over 12 miles away, so it was great to see him again having set out on his own. We finished the tour by adding another 70 species of birds in Misiones, Argentina, but the sight and sound Iguazú Falls after a period of heavy rains upstream was most impressive. The water flow was about three times the average, and we had the great fortune of being there at the right time before an approaching cold front to watch an estimated 20,000 Great Dusky Swifts gather and disappearing behind the falls for their nightly roost. It was an unforgettable experience.


For the first time ever, all participants arrived a day early so everyone was all ready to go birding as soon as we could get a driver. We were delighted to see that Sebastião was early, as he would be for every outing for the rest of the tour, and so we were already headed north to Chapada dos Guimarães National Park by 7:00 a.m. We were delighted to see that the often-bustling tourist destination of Salgadeira waterfall was totally empty of people, and the birds were hopping. Yellow-chevroned Parakeets flew over, tanagers included a male Swallow Tanager in his lacquered turquoise vestments, and a pair of Guira Tanagers. A Narrow-billed Woodcreeper joined the fray, and a male Helmeted Manakin appeared suddenly in the forest understory. We watched some hummingbird action in a pink piuva tree and spent some time puzzling out a female that, with the help of photos, we determined to be a female Dot-eared Coquette, a lifer for everyone. We made a stop at the scenic Veu de Noiva waterfall, and Cliff Flycatchers and a splendid show of Red-and-green Macaws were the highlights there. Closer to our lodge, we made a quick stop before lunch and had our only sighting of a family of adorable Brown Jacamars. On our afternoon walk we were serenaded by many Undulated Tinamous, a distant Pheasant Cuckoo, and a very close pair of Barred Forest-Falcons as it began to grow dark. The early evening highlight was a Band-winged Nightjar on the roof of the restaurant, only a few feet away.

The morning in the short-stature woodland on sandy soils was very interesting – a pair of Planalto Slaty-Antshrikes seemed rather out-of-place here, but the White-rumped Tanagers eventually performed their duets nicely, while numbers of White-winged Tanagers and Plain-crested Tyrannulets were rather high. We lucked into Pearl Kites a few times in this open area, and the reliable Burrowing Owls here were adorable to watch. In the later morning we moved to an area of taller forest where a troop of Lettered Aracaris moved through and a pair of Purple-throated Euphonias were new for the trip. In the afternoon we concentrated our efforts on our lodge’s grounds. A Little Woodpecker graced the trees in the lodge’s garden, while we spent some effort bushwhacking to a location where we would see a Southern Antpipit (though a Flavescent Warbler at the same location was actually not quite as cooperative but eventually showed well). Upon emerging from the overgrown trail we were greeted by an impressively large group of twenty-two Smooth-billed Anis.

On our second day in the Chapada area we concentrated on both Blue Finch and Collared Crescentchest to no avail, but along the way we saw some great birds. A pair of Whistling Herons in a dry field had us stopping right on the highway, where we ended up seeing Gray Monjita and quite a few other birds. Near the Geodesic Center overlook, a small group of wintering White-rumped Swallows were entertaining; there are few photos of this species from Mato Grosso and no previous sound recordings in eBird. On our way to the short-stature sand forest near town, we lucked into a scarce Crested Black-Tyrant in an empty lot, and then while birding a side road we enjoyed prolonged views of a White-eared Puffbird and a Peach-fronted Parakeet that posed at very close range, strangely unafraid of our presence. We birded some taller forest on the south-facing side of the range where Guira Tanager and Blue Dacnis were memorable. In the afternoon we drove to the Aroe Jari cavern road, where the crescentchest continued to elude us; yet we caught up with a fabulous Red-legged Seriema at very close range, saw our only Curl-crested Jay, and got a Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, among many other birds, to respond to pygmy-owl imitations and the mobbing mix.

On our travel day to Cristalino Lodge, our mid-day flight allowed us some morning birding on our lodge grounds, and one of the tour’s biggest surprises was a Chaco Eagle. Though it was perched nearly a mile away, we watched it being harassed by comparatively miniscule Chopi Blackbirds as it flew to a couple different perches before finally dropping out of sight. Happily, the flight to Alta Floresta was uneventful, and we made some nice stops on the way to the lodge. At the grove of Mauritia flexuosa palms, a Point-tailed Palmcreeper was amazingly cooperative, and it was fun to watch a trio of Black-capped Donacobius singing and cavorting in the dense growth. We made one stop on the road through the lodge’s fazenda, where Red-throated Caracara perched for us, and White-necked Jacobin and Bare-necked Fruitcrow joined the growing species list. We spotted a Large-billed Tern over the Teles Pires River before turning up the Cristalino River with its cooler, darker waters. After a lesson in identifying the three species of swallow one sees on every boat ride, we were lucky to see an elusive Gray-chested Greenlet, a bird we would only hear every other day while here. A Black-throated Mango also responded to pygmy-owl imitations, and as we motored on towards the lodge, a few quick eyes locked on to a Razor-billed Curassow before it disappeared into the dense overhanging vegetation.

The Ted Parker Tower was on our schedule for our first full morning, and it did not disappoint. After an amazing dawn chorus with Long-tailed Woodcreeper being dominant, a White-browed Hawk perched at close range, and tanagers, tyrannulets, and cotingas began to emerge. Paradise Tanager’s colors were hard to believe, and then Pompadour Cotinga showed off its impossible hues and stunningly white wings. We had fantastic fly-bys of several parrots, including a trio of Scarlet Macaws and closely perched Blue-headed Parrots. After lunch, several Wood Storks soared over the common area, an odd sight over the tall rainforest trees. We spent most of the afternoon boating slowly upriver, pausing for a nest of Black-throated Mango with a single chick, a Bare-faced Curassow high in a tree, no fewer than seven Sunbitterns (including one with an aberrant hawk-like call), and two handsome Capped Herons. Our first Bat Falcon perched in a tree, and two Swallow-tailed Kites were soaring high near the end of our boat ride. We disembarked to briefly check a remnant pond (the lagoinha) to find it was still very full of water; there were some birds though, mostly heard, and we spent some time getting views of a lovely Dot-backed Antbird.

The next morning, we repeated our boat ride upriver, with the lovely morning temperature and stunning light having us making frequent stops. Sunbitterns continued their conspicuousness; we tallied a total of nine on the boat ride up. We stopped to call in a mob that included a gorgeous male Amethyst Woodstar; we would soon find out that it was the perfect week of the year for them. A single Channel-billed Toucan lurked quietly in the riverside vegetation, giving us such good views that we were able to see the channel on either side of its culmen. We took the short new “Vale” trail to a rocky outcropping, pausing on the way to not see a very closely singing Brown-winged Schiffornis and to see a much more cooperative Black-throated Trogon, a very scarce bird in the area. At the outcropping we were getting fairly good looks at a mob that inclucded both Variegated and Crowned Slaty Flycatchers as well as six species of hummingbirds, but we were happy to turn our backs to them in order to admire the Harpy Eagle that Stef had spotted perched behind us. We spent about 15 minutes with the eagle before it flew off, and only then did we give the Paradise Jacamars the attention they deserved. In the afternoon we walked the Manakin Trail, and though it was very quiet on the way out, and the isolated pond still too high to allow close approach, a pair of Rufous-tailed Flatbills made us stop on the way back. We stood quietly for quite some time, trying to get good views, which is the only reason that a family group of Dark-winged Trumpeters gradually approached and weren’t bothered by our presence. We were none to early arriving at Francisco’s bird baths, and we settled in for the show, which started slowly and at times was quite exciting. The hands-down favorite were the Bare-eyed Antbirds, which otherwise would have been possible only if we had found an army ant swarm (which we never did). Other highlights among the 17 species we saw there were Snow-capped Manakin, a pair of Xingu Scale-backed Antbirds, and even better views of Dot-backed Antbird.

It was hard to tear ourselves away from the Chip Haven Tower on our third morning at Cristalino. From the start we were seeing good stuff, beginning with the very scarce Green-and-gold Tanager, followed by Bay-headed Tanager and Yellow-browed Tody-Tyrant among the birds in the close canopy. The fruiting Zanthoxylum tree right next to the tower attracted a host of tanagers during the morning, but the male Pink-throated Becard showing off his namesake was the best prize. Curl-crested Aracaris put on a show at close range, as did some Spix’s Guans, and we eventually realized they were feeding on a fruiting epiphytic fig growing inside the canopy of the huge tree next to the tower. At a greater distance, we had good views of Bare-necked Fruitcrow, all the big macaws, many other parrots, and nearly 75 species in total. In the afternoon we explored the sandy island system in the Teles Pires River, exposed only during this drier time of year. The Amazonian Tyrannulet showed in record time, and we also had great views of the Black-collared Swallows that breed in the nearby rocks in the river. A pair of Pied Lapwings remained nearby, a male Ladder-tailed Nightjar sat on an exposed rock for a long time, Spotted Tody-Flycatchers responded well, and a pair of the very local Green-tailed Goldenthroat chased each other while responding to playback.

On our fourth full day at Cristalino, we had an early morning departure to get to the top of the Serra before it got too hot. The views from the overlook were incredible, and a pair of very confiding Natterer’s Slaty-Antshrikes were good to see, but the bird activity wasn’t that high. That changed when we moved to the higher granite dome and brought in quite the mob with hummingbirds stealing the show – nine species eventually came in, as well as a real Amazonian Pygmy-Owl, which really stood out in the nearly leafless forest. There were multiple Amethyst Woodstars, mostly colorful males, a briefly seen male Black-bellied Thorntail, and an immature male Butterfly Coquette that stayed for photos to document this local rarity at the very edge of its range. A pair of Epaulet Orioles responded well, and a duetting pair of Eastern Striolated Puffbirds eventually popped up for scope views. A Gray-lined Hawk here was the only one we saw on the tour. As we had just about finished the steep descent from the Serra, we paused at a patch of red flowers (Justicia birae) and just as the group assembled, a Tapajos Hermit briefly came in to feed. A bit of playback was surprisingly effective, and we all ended up getting good views of this localized specialty. Back down into the forest understory where birding was more difficult, we still managed to add birds, including a pair of very confiding Blackish Antbirds and a less easy White-browed Antbird. We had time to bird a bit up the river before heading to lunch, and we tried the start of the Serra II trail, instantly had a big mixed flock, the prize in which was a Curve-billed Scythebill, though the Greenish Elaenia was a much rarer bird. For the late afternoon we boated upriver and quickly walked the Castanheiras trail to see the big Brazil Nut tree; the only bird we really saw was a Spix’s Woodcreeper, a new one for the trip. We then boated all the way up to the Limão rapids. Along the way we had good views of Razor-billed Curassow, one even flying across the river, and enjoyed the charming White-winged Swallows. It gradually grew dark as we worked our way back down to the lodge, spotting South American Tapir, two Lowland Pacas, many caiman of both species, some silent nightjars up in the trees (at least two of which were Blackish Nightjars), and a Boat-billed Heron.

We made good use of our last morning at Cristalino, starting with great views of Bar-breasted Piculet and the scarce Black-banded Woodcreeper, then good views of White-bellied Parrots and a brief Blue-crowned Trogon in the Secret Garden. Back on the trails a mixed flock proved to be very challenging, but in it was another Curve-billed Scythebill, which everyone finally got views of. At the boat dock as we waited for our rides, the Buff-breasted Wrens duetted us their goodbyes. A luggage snafu at the Teles Pires boat launch gave us a bit of extra time, during which we lucked into a group of soaring Swallow-tailed Kites low over the trees. We were finally on our way and enjoyed another uneventful flight back to Cuiabá. There wasn’t much time to bird on the way to our lodge, but we did have to stop for close Greater Rheas and our first Jabiru, and we also marveled at the sudden appearance of Nacunda Nighthawks over the marshes as we descended into the basin that is the Pantanal. We had scheduled an evening safari truck ride, and we scored huge on potoo night – both Great and Common were in abundance. Mammals were scarce, but we did see a few Brazilian Rabbits, and thanks to the thermal scope we spotted an Ocelot barely visible in the dark undergrowth.

Without leaving Aymara Lodge grounds, and birding only by foot, by noon we had seen nearly 100 species of birds. We began birding before there was much light by walking out the main road, so it wasn’t until we returned for breakfast that we were greeted by the incomparable Hyacinth Macaws that entertain with their antics much of the day, as they nest right by our rooms. Chestnut-bellied Guans wandered the grounds, and a Crimson-crested Woodpecker was also very conspicuous. In the more open areas down the entrance road, we enjoyed our first Yellow-billed Cardinals and Masked Gnatcatchers, both at nearly every stop. One particularly good find was a Subtropical Doradito, a sneaky little yellow thing that liked to keep low in the marshy vegetation; we ended up with great views of what turned out to be a first record for the property. The Yellow-browed Tyrant we saw, like the doradito only here for the non-breeding season, was also a first record for the property. In the afternoon we used the safari vehicle to explore the marshes along the main Transpantaneira, which we had only driven through quickly the day before. One stop at a likely looking patch of red flowers in a flooded field resulted in the hoped-for White-tailed Goldenthroat, one of the most distinctive habitats for any hummingbird. We enjoyed the multitude of Snail Kites, often perched right next to the road, and at the end of our drive we stopped to marvel at the seemingly endless stream of thousands of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks commuting from wherever they had been feeding to a distant communal roost.

We began the early morning of our departure covering at the half-way area on Aymara’s entrance road. Red-billed Scythebill was the highlight for many, and an American Pygmy-Kingfisher perched in the open vegetation in the flooded ditch was great to see. A singleton Black-capped Donacobius sang at length, unpreoccupied with a duetting partner, providing an unequalled opportunity for photos, sound recordings, and video. Before we departed the lodge, we checked the grove of trees where our cabins were. After a while, we finally relocated the stunning Pale-crested Woodpecker that had been drumming at breakfast and had been seen only by Dave. But we also caught up with a monster – Great Rufous Woodcreeper, the only one we would see on the tour, and had Purplish Jays in such perfectly light they almost looked purple – but definitely only purplish. We then began our journey south, stopping for birds along the Transpantaneira. We had great views of Squirrel Cuckoo in a patch of dry forest, and we made a quick stop for a pair of our first Plumbeous Ibis singing loudly in a tree – and this ended up being a major milestone, lifebird #6000 for Cathy. Not far down the road, as the habitat became wetter, our first Black-collared Hawk flew over over the road, but Dan, even in the back of the van got looks good enough to count it – and thereby tallied his 2000th lifebird. Stopping for a bit of action close to lunchtime, we lucked into two Long-tailed Ground-Doves palling around with a group of Scaled Doves. At lunch, the highlight was a molting male Vermilion Flycatcher with exactly half of its adult feathers randomly and evenly distributed throughout the plumage. After lunch the Pantanal got wetter and wetter, the marshes more continuous, and the birds changed accordingly. We had two White-headed Marsh-Tyrants, our first of what would be many Southern Screamers, and after seeing a Great Horned Owl in the obligatory mango orchard stop, we had one a few miles south of there, perched on a cable out in the open. We were welcomed at our lodging for the next three nights by a multitude of fearless birds, such as noisy Hyacinth Macaws and a group of cheerful Grayish Baywings.

On our first half-day boat ride on the Cuiabá River and its tributaries, we watched birds, but we had our minds the hope that we might find a jaguar. An Orange-winged Parrot perched along the main river would be our only one not just flying over. We stopped at a beach for Pied Lapwing and the distinctive Large-billed Tern and the motored up the quiet Corixo Negro. A female Vermilion Flycatcher was distinctive for its heavy streaking, quite different from the northern hemisphere birds. Then not even an hour into our birding, our boatman Marcelo heard on the radio that a jaguar was being seen a few miles away. We might just find our own as we continued to bird slowly and check the small side streams, but you never know…so we motored very quickly back down the Três Irmãos to the mouth of the Cuiabá River, and within a few minutes saw the cluster of boats and there was our first jaguar, walking around on a grassy flat, occasionally nibbling on the blades. We would later learn that this was a female name Ti. We continued birding for a while, working our way upriver to a safe place for a bathroom stop. On the way we spotted our first Giant Otters, at least two actively swimming upriver. The quiet backwater of Corixo São Pedrinho was very birdy, and we tooted in a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and a pair Wattled Jacana paid zero attention to our boat often hardly more than a foot away from them. Mid-morning came another radio call of a jaguar having been spotted, not far away. In fact, it was where we had been barely more than an hour earlier, using an open area for a potty break! This jaguar was known as Benita, a young female perhaps only a year old, and she was resting high in a tree overhanging the water, giving us fabulous views. Back at the hotel for lunch and a siesta, we also did a bit of birding before heading out by boat for the afternoon, enjoying the Cattle Tyrants and Hyacinth Macaws, and getting photos of a pair of Southern Screamers with four chicks. For the afternoon we went downstream on the Cuiabá to Corixo Negrinho, a very birdy place. After admiring an island full of Black Skimmers (and noting that at least one had a metal band), we paused at a beach with many Large-billed Terns. A Yellow-headed Caracara at the mouth of Negrinho was only our second one of the tour. We flushed countless kingfishers and Black-crowned Night-Herons, among which were many Boat-billed Herons. We also had very good views of Green-and-rufous Kingfisher here. On the way back, as it became dusk, an estimated 80 Band-tailed Nighthawks appeared over the river, a wonderful close to an eventful day.

We spent our second morning by boat in the same area as the day before – up the Três Irmãos river above its junction with the Cuiabá and going up various side channels where jaguars are known to hang out. The numbers of egrets on the Corixo Negro were wonderful to watch as we slowly motored up the channel. We watched a pair of Turquoise-fronted Parrots investigating a probable nest site and had a very responsive pair of Red-billed Scythebills before we got another call for a jaguar spotted up the Três Irmãos, not far away. So off we went, only to discover it the animal was resting on the bank in the shade, mostly hidden by vegetation. We stayed for at least 20 minutes, hoping that it might get up and start hunting, but the most we saw was it do was yawn. Our photos were good enough to eventually determine it was the one-year-old male Manath. We were one of the first boats to give up on hoping for more action, and so we continued upriver. On the way up, we made a quick stop for a Greater Ani, an unusual bird at this season. We boated farther upriver than we had the previous day and as we rounded a curve, a jaguar was spotted out in the open on a beach ahead. As we approached, we noticed it was a mother with two cubs, and Marcelo alerted us that these could be new; he was unaware of there being any jaguars with two cubs. He called it out to the other boats, but we ended up having them to ourselves during the six minutes we spent with them before they disappeared behind the vegetation. We waited around for at least another 15 minutes, as did a couple other boats, but the trio of cats never reappeared. We were later to learn that the mother was Ibaca, which Rich had seen in the same area on January 14, 2020. Researchers knew that she had one cub, photographed in her mouth in late November last year, but she hadn’t been seen since, and it was not known that she actually had two. We were apparently the first boat that she dared show her cubs to – and thereby we also were granted the privilege of naming the new cub. After a couple days’ discussion, we decided that “Ipepo,” the Guaraní translation of “wings,” was a suitable name, and it seems that the researchers accepted it. But our day wasn’t done with jaguars. We stopped for a Collared Plover on a beach, letting Georges catch up with the group, and an Osprey was spotted, new for the trip list. Then when we were less than fifteen minutes from the hotel, we spotted yet another jaguar on the bank of the Rio Cuiabá. This one was walking through tall vegetation, so at first it wasn’t clear if we’d get good enough photos to identify it, but it eventually came out to the river edge, and we were then blown away by what transpired over the next 13 minutes. All caught in photos and videos, we watched what turned out to be the six-year-old female Pixána spot and then catch and kill a Capybara, a rarely seen event. Giddy from the excitement, we were still able to enjoy the profusion of birds back at the hotel ground, the loud duetting of Rufous Horneros being memorable. For the afternoon, we ended up going out by boat once again, back downriver. We stopped at the Black Skimmer island again, this time putting the sun behind us and getting very close to a banded bird that cooperatively walked around so that a full number combo could be photographed. We were to eventually learn that this bird had been banded as a chick about 100 miles upriver 17 years earlier, and that it likely spent its non-breeding summers on the cost either in southern Brazil or Argentina every year since then. Marcelo spotted Capped Heron on the riverbank, and for a short bit we marveled at a trio of them doing a complex mating dance before being frightened by the boat. We had even better views of Collared Plover on a beach and a nice group of Wood Storks before quietly motoring up the heron- and kingfisher-stuffed Corixo Negrinho. Boat-billed Herons showed nicely, a Cinnamon-throated Hermit darted in the undergrowth (just long enough for photos to help clinch the identification), and a Striped Cuckoo responded nicely to a whistled imitation. We had reached the end of the navigable stream and were about to return when a commotion a few yards away turned to be our sixth jaguar of the day. It had apparently been in the river – maybe it swam across the river right behind the boat? – and leapt out onto a log just a few yards away. Marcelo maneuvered the boat a bit farther away and in better light, and the animal just ignored us as it walked out the log to see if any caiman could be caught (we could hear them splashing in retreat) and then spent well over 10 minutes cleaning itself before walking off into the vegetation. This turned out to be two-year-old Kasimir, seen on the WINGS tour the previous August with his sibling Krishna and mother Patricia some 12 miles away in Corixo Negro. He hadn’t been observed since departing to stake out his own territory. With a slightly delayed departure, we once again enjoyed the show of Band-tailed Nighthawks emerging to hunt over the river at dusk. For our last evening, some of us took a night walk nearby to look for owls, getting poor views of a calling Amazonian Mottled Owl, but also seeing an Ocelot with a radio collar and two Brown-eared Woolly Opossums in the trees.

Our travel day back to Cuiabá began with some birding in the Porto Jofre area, where surprisingly few species still would be new for us. Fawn-breasted Wren and Ashy-headed Greenlet were two of them that we picked up, while we enjoyed superb views of repeats Rufous-tailed Jacamar and White-wedged Piculet. Farther down the road in the Campos do Jofre, the big, wide-open grassy and shrubby marshes, we finally caught up with a cooperative Cinereous-breasted Spinetail (after moving on from one that was most recalcitrant), and a male White-headed Marsh-Tyrant was most adorable. In the late morning, paying attention in the right kind of papyrus-filled marsh we spotted a Scarlet-headed Blackbird, then another, and had great views of this stunning bird. A single Purplish Jay at our lunch stop was memorable, and then on the long haul northward, a stop was requested for Greater Rhea, which we did twice; the second time involved a male courting four females, his wings splayed forward and the females twitching their wings over their backs.


A long day of travel through Brazil (a big country!) was highlighted by a Gray Monjita we saw from within the Brasilia airport. Finally settled in our hotel at Puerto Iguazú, Argentina, we had time for a short late afternoon walk. The pair of Rufous-capped Motmots came close, but they were shy, and the light was getting tough. Eared Pygmy-Tyrant and Chestnut-bellied Euphonia were more cooperative, and Sick’s Swifts flew over low on their way to a nightly roost.

The 101 Road turned out to still too slippery for our van, but we found plenty of birds by walking out the first couple hundred yards. A pair of Slaty-breasted Wood-Rails foraged calming about 50 yards ahead of us, and we watched one grab a large insect, probably a giant water bug, from the ditch on one side and rush over to the other side to dismember it like a woodpecker hacking at a tree. In the mixed flocks were Ochre-collared Piculet, Ochre-breasted Foliage-gleaner, and Streak-capped Antwren, while we were lucky to spot a Red-breasted Toucan among the much more common Tocos. We finished the morning by birding the more accessible forests by our hotel, where a mixed flock contained our first Red-crowned Ant-Tanagers. The rest of the day after lunch was devoted to the waterfall zone in the national park, but we couldn’t not see the common and gorgeous Plush-crested Jays. On the way to the trails to the lower waterfalls, we spotted a Burrowing Owl in a tree, a very odd sight. We were aware of the approaching cold front, forecasted to bring rain starting in the late afternoon, but we did not realize that it would also affect the timing of the Great Dusky Swifts’ daily arrival to roost behind the waterfalls. Instead of gradually trickling in towards sunset (mostly unnoticed, as it’s an hour after the national park closes), they came in early and en masse at about 4:30 p.m., just before the rains arrived – and we witnessed a seemingly endless river and boiling cauldron of some 20,000 swifts gather in the increasingly cloudy sky and begin to plummet down into the raging falls. About 15 minutes after we left the falls and before we reached the main park entrance, the skies opened up and dumped buckets of rain.


The front passed quickly in the evening, and the next morning was refreshingly cool. The 101 Road was going to be even muddier, so we birded a paved road nearby that passed through similar habitat. Spot-backed Antshrikes seemed undeterred by the low temperature, and many were singing; we finally had one come in for good views, and then we saw several. We had only one pair of the huge Tufted Antshrike, and skulking Rufous Gnateater and White-shouldered Fire-eye were eventually seen. On other end of the shy spectrum was a Surucua Trogon that perched on the power line while we were trying to get views of a female Band-tailed Manakin, a new addition to the list. A pair of Tropical Screech-Owls on their day roost were an accidental find with the thermal scope before we turned around at the end of a fine morning. In the afternoon we visited the Jardín de Picaflores, where the Versicolored Emeralds were simply uncountable. Black Jacobin was notable for its color, size, and for being only three. We also had great views of the attractive Yellow-fronted Woodpecker at the fruit. We finished the day with a walk-through town along the cliffs above the Iguazú River just above its joining the Paraná River. Double-collared Seedeater was new for the list, as were a very responsive pair of gorgeous Green-headed Tanagers.

We had an early morning departure for Urugua-í Provincial Park, with the hope that the rare and declining Black-fronted Piping-Guan would be out and about, as they often disappear by late morning. But perhaps the passage of the cold front affected their daily pattern, and none were around when we arrived. So we considered ourselves very lucky when late in the morning one actually flew over road and landed in a tree where we could get good views. In the meantime, there were plenty of birds to be seen, starting with the Riverbank Warblers at the bridge, and Chestnut-headed Tanager right along the road. Deeper in the forest we saw White-browed Warblers, the source of the enchanting, descending series of whistles that we heard all the time. Gray-bellied Spinetail was the one skulker who came very close without being seen, but we did catch up with the furtive Drab-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant as well as a pair of Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper. Easier to see were the Southern Bristle-Tyrant and a female Blackish-blue Seedeater, while a Blond-crested Woodpecker really showed off its crest and colors. On the way back to our hotel, we stopped to bird a patch of Araucaria woodland mixed with pine plantation and with little trouble had several of the well-named Araucaria Tit-Spinetails. We called in a mixed flock which contained our first Fawn-breasted Tanager, while a Long-tailed Tyrant was on territory and our first Lineated Woodpecker for the entire tour finally made an appearance.

We had one last morning to bird near our hotel before we gradually peeled off for our international flights home from the Foz do Iguaçú side of the river. We first got good views of Rufous-capped Motmot on the grounds of a neighboring hotel. Variable Antshrikes were quite conspicuous along the entire walk, which then led us to a small pond where Least Grebe was a nice addition. Those who dared walk through some muck to the back side of the pond got lucky to see a Blackish Rail, while back on the road we had another nice mob with White-throated Hummingbird. For those few who were able to linger a bit longer, a pair of Blond-crested Woodpeckers put on a nice show, while a single White Woodpecker, the last addition to our official list, appeared in the trees right next to our hotel.

-Rich Hoyer

Created: 24 August 2023