Friday, July 18, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
Posted by Bill of the Birds at 4:30 PM
I left the Atlanta airport late on the night of Wednesday, July 8 on an overnight flight to São Paulo, Brazil. No I was not fleeing the country, I was heading way down south and east to sample the bird life of South America's largest country at the invite of Leica Sport Optics. Terry Moore, Leica's vice president for sport optics (and super avid birder) was our host for the trip. Also along for the adventure were two other well-known birder/friends, Chuck Hagner, editor of Birder's World magazine, and Pete Dunne, author, birding raconteur, and director of Cape May Bird Observatory in New Jersey.
We got on the Boeing 777, stowed our bags, and tried in our own ways to get some sleep on the 9 hour flight. I slept for exactly 13 minutes. These were the final 13 minutes before we touched down in Brazil, with my head and neck in the upright and locked position. During the flight I worked, glanced through the Brazil field guide, watched some horrible movies (none—thank the gods—starring my airplane movie nemesis, Matthew McConaughey), and enjoyed various amounts of snoring and drool from my fellow passengers (my own trip companions excluded).
Stepping off the airplane (and hoping the feeling would soon return to my lower extremities) the cool air of winter in the southern hemisphere greeted us. I wondered at that moment if I'd brought enough warm gear. It turned out I'd brought JUST enough.
There to meet us for our week of bird watching in Brazil was our guide (and one of Brazil's most accomplished field birders) Paolo Boute of Boute Expeditions. Into the Renault combi-van we went and in moments we were roaring through the crowded streets of São Paulo, headed toward the mountains of Itatiaia National Park (pronounced Eat-ta-CHY-ah). Along the way we made a stop at the house of a friend of Paulo's.
The house was shades of blue, green and yellow. The green walls enclosing the courtyard perfectly complemented the green bedsheets hung out to dry. Our hosts made us espresso coffee that was just the ticket for sleepyhead birders. It had the consistency of pancake batter. I was thereafter hooked on it and spent much of my time in Brazil trying to score just one more tiny cup of the beneficial brew.
This is when the birds started appearing.
The sun was up and warming the trees along the roadway. My first Brazil bird (that was NOT a house sparrow, rock pigeon, or black vulture) was a blue-winged parrotlet. This was followed immediately by a strange hummingbird and a strange tanager. We would be seeing 17 additional hummingbird species and 21 additional tanager species in the ensuing 7 days, but these were our first ones and therefore, special.
The first hummingbird was a swallow-tailed hummingbird and the tanager was a hooded tanager. Then some waxbills, and a white-barred piculet, and an unidentified hummer, and the ever-present great kiskadees. Oh, it was ON, bro!
We drove to the town of Itatiaia and stopped a few times along the way to scope birds. I was in a fog, but still managed looks at social flycatcher, Brazilian teal, and yellow-headed caracara.
As we left the main highway and headed up a narrow mountain road, we left the noise and unpleasantness of civilization behind us. Ahead were forests and shadowy trails where we'd meet many new birds in the next four days.
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