Monday, July 28, 2008
Monday, July 28, 2008
Posted by Bill of the Birds at 5:51 PM
Our second day in Brazil was the first one where getting off an airplane was not a part of the morning ritual (nor was having flown all night from the USA). We'd spent the previous night at the Hotel Ypé in Itatiaia National Park, our home for the next four days.
And the night had been surprisingly chilly. This was why we had small fireplaces set with logs and kindling in our rooms. It took me most of an hour, two sections of The New York Times and half of my copy of Paste Magazine before the damp logs caught and the fire hissed into action.
It would be hard to top Day 1. I'd scored 37 life birds and taken what would be some of my best bird images of the entire trip.
I was up five minutes before my alarm for the start of Day 2. I dressed quickly and stepped out onto my veranda for a check of the ambient temperature: chilly and damp, but no wind. I was wearing every warm bit of clothing I'd brought. So much for the balmy tropics! The stars were twinkling high above, but in odd configurations from this southern hemisphere perspective. From the edge of the forest the tawny-browed owl was quavering his call—perhaps saying goodnight to his friends and foes.
As would be the case for most mornings on the trip, I was the first one to reach the breakfast area. And each morning at the Hotel Ypé the small Brazilian man who was up to serve the breakfast tried to make conversation with me. Despite my complete lack of Portuguese and his complete lack of English, we did OK—sometimes using Spanish as a common medium. We talked about the cold air, the rain in the night, the bird feeders, the wondrous array of fruits and breads laid out for our consumption. There is something refreshing about being in a part of the world where you cannot speak the local language. It resets one's brain I think.
Dusky-headed guans were now calling up the sun and our first glimpse of a gray-necked wood-rail occurred before we'd gone 50 yards. I felt a tinge of regret at not spending the morning photographing and watching the birds at the hotel's feeders, but Paulo assured me that we'd have time for that before we left Itatiaia.
Our destination today was to be the high mountains along Agulhas Negras (Black Needles) Road, so named for the long, vertical, black spires of stone on the tallest peaks. We'd be up at 8,000 feet at the highest point, and along the way, we'd be looking for some of the rarer endemics of southeastern Brazil.
Along the main highway, we stopped to scan a flock of curl-crested jays—a large blue, white, and black jay, with an Elvis Presley "D-A" curl on its head. We got good looks but were not close enough for photos.
A few miles farther along we stopped for a bathroom and coffee break at a roadside rest with an adjacent bar/restaurant/convenience store. The tiny cups of coffee offered by the old man operating the store were just what was needed to fight the morning chill and clear the travel fog from our brains. Standing in the dark shop, drinking the coffee, my eyes settled on a package of toilet paper in the counter display case. It was SNOB brand toilet paper. The shopkeeper obliged when we asked Paulo to ask him to bring it out so we could photograph it. But I'm not sure he understood why we thought it was so funny—or worth photographing.
Back outside we scored a few more birds, including good looks at rufous-collared sparrow, which defines the word ubiquitous. Diademed tanager was our next new and exciting bird, but we'd see them even better later in the day.
A mile or so later we left the paved highway behind and turned right, onto a long, straight road that sloped ever upward. The forest towered on both sides, often closing in like a roof overhead. This was the road to Picos das Agulhas Negras: Black Needles Peaks. Cesar, our driver, let us out into the still-cool air and we began seeing and hearing birds. Swallow-tailed tanager, a white-barred piculet, several birds with "ant" as part of their name called out but were not seen. As the sun heated up the earth and air, the birds were becoming more active. We re-boarded the bus.
It would not be long before we were driving above the clouds.
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