Chappada (7.31.12)

The forest road is thick with rich red dust. We’re clinging to dusk for a few more minutes. I’d thought we were done for the day, but we had to veer off so Finch could check out this particular forest road. For tomorrow, or some future possible trip. He has his ever-present GPS, his little notepad.

I say I’ll stay in the car — I’m on my 8th book of the trip, a sinking into reading I haven’t had the luxury of for years. It’s how I glide through the pauses when the birding surpasses my geek factor.

In this kind of birding, you pull over at some likely habitat — low, semi-open cerrado forest, gallery forest along a river, open savannah, transitional forest working its way from low cerrado to tall, dense amazonian. You go silent, feeling the space, listening, sensing. If you are not in an over-birded place, where you don’t want to stress the birds, confuse them by littering their space with imagined rivals, you play a recorded call to lure out some specific, sought after bird.

There’s a lot of standing about waiting in birding, calling in birds, listening for calls, silently calling them in, following the abrupt flitting long enough to get a photo. Silently pointing out silent arrivals, a bill, a tail, a crest, a glimpse. Sometimes I get impatient, uncomfortable. I like to see the birds, but the particular obscure ones are not part of my vocabulary. Sometimes, it feels to me like meditating in someone else’s body. Pausing and holding, being very present, but not knowing when the release might come. So I slather myself with repellent, lay out my jacket as a more optimistic-than-effective defense against chiggers and ticks and mosquitoes and sit where I can. Pull out a book or my kobo. Back to my 10 year old self reading in the tree at the cottage.

Our day began with 630 am birding on “Geladeria road”– refrigerator road, named peculiarly after a waterfall — in the Chappada, a plateau above the rest of this part of Brazil. It’s been a real birders’ day, one habitat after another, Eduardo and Finch both talking over each other with excitement as they lure out bird after bird. Helmeted manakin! Rufous winged antshrike!


Spot backed puff bird!

Planalto tyrannulet! Now that’s a bird!

It’s tiny and dull and obscure, but I can tell from Finch’s posture that the planalto tyrranulet is one of those hard to see birds. He’s rhapsodizing — look at the yellowish suffusion on the forepart of the supercilium! The noticeably horizontal posture for a tyrranulet! Look how it cocks its tail!

After the refrigerator road, we stopped in the town and I ordered an iced coffee, expecting espresso over ice… And got an expensive, astonishing concoction of ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate and biscuit.


Eduardo was genuinely puzzled that i would prefer it without ice cream.

Then a forest road, where I practiced my non-Brazilian phrase book Portugese on Eduardo and photographed band tailed manakin,


and then the geodesic centre of south America. Then in the afternoon, back to the park we’d been barred from the day before by the officious little man we dubbed the Barrel-chested tyrannulet because we arrived too close to closing time, kvetched about the fact that most of the trails are now closed because of a freak accident. Tried to photograph the red and green macaws that kept shooting past the cavernous valley to no avail. (too far! Damn autofocus! Overexposed!)

So I photographed the waterfall.


Now, at dusk, on the forest road, Finch comes running. “Come buffy come! Do you want to see a really big poisonous snake!!??”

It’s not really a question, and I haul myself out of the dusty car. “it’s moving! Hurry!” I advance on the viper and take a couple of dutiful, bad photos, watching it disappear into the undergrowth.

Heard in the forest a couple of days later:

“There’s a botfly here by my hand.”

(finch crashing though the forest like a collared peccary) “I want to see that!!!”



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