Arjan's Biggest Year

In 2016 I will attempt the ultimate in global birding, to break the world record in birdwatching, this involves observing more than 6000 species in a single year!
Like my predecessor Noah Strycker I will count heard-only birds, but I will differentiate between heard-only- and seen species to make sure my list stays comparable.

During my 'Biggest Year' I will raise money for the groundbreaking Birdlife Preventing Extinctions Programme in a collaboration with Vogelbescherming Nederland and the Dutch Birding Association. This programme aims to prevent the extinction of all globally threatened bird species by applying an active, innovative and highly effective methodology.

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Arjan's Biggest Year is supported by:

July 20- 25: Brazil (2)

5 augustus 2016  ·  Arjan Dwarshuis  ·  4567 × bekeken


Yesterday afternoon we had arrived at Alta Floresta airport along with our guide for the next five days, Bruno Renno. Upon arrival we were met by Carlos – the son of the lodge owner - who escorted us during the three hour long transfer to the Rio Azul Jungle Lodge, a family run sports fishing eco-lodge that has recently been discovered as one of the top birding sites in the Brazilian Amazon. Two recently described species in particular are almost exclusively found here, the Bald Parrot and the Tapajos Hermit. In addition to these two world rarities the lodge list now stands at over 500 species and with new species found every month this total is bound to grow towards 550 or even 600 in the near future.

After a sweaty, bumpy drive we finally arrived at the lodge, where we were welcomed by the family and some cold drinks and as the sun set behind the rainforest canopy we scoped a flock of seven different tanager species from the lodge clearing. Let the fun begin!

O I almost forgot to mention that the food at this place is absolutely amazing and for me – being a very fanatic hobby cook – this was another big highlight!

Of course there was one bird we hoped to see most at the Rio Azul Jungle Lodge, the Bald Parrot. Carlos and his father were optimistic about our chances if we would join them on a boat ride downstream. We encountered some delay in form of a nice male Glossy Antshrike and a Layard’s Woodcreeper and subsequently we were a little late to try for Zigzag Heron; well that little heron has to come later during our stay :)

As we drifted downstream Bruno picked up and taped in one fantastic bird after another and soon it became clear that this guy was absolutely phenomenal with birds sounds of the Brazilian Amazon. In fact he must be one of the best guides I’ve ever had the pleasure of birding with. Highlights were many, but special mentioning goes to an exceptionally showy Razor-billed Curassow, a female Crimson Topaz, a male Long-billed Starthroat, a pair of the huge Long-billed Woodcreeper, Dot-backed Antbird, Madeira Parakeet, Gould’s Toucanet, Red-necked Aracari and a female Spangled Cotinga.

Then it happened, Bruno screamed ‘Look!’ and two Bald Parrots flew overhead showing the distinctive red underwing coverts and bald head. It went all too quickly, but we had just seen one of the most enigmatic Parrot species of the New World! Yes!

As soon as we set foot on land we walked into an army ant-swarm and moments later we watched the recently described Xingu Scale-backed Antbird showing its diagnostic black throat.

After a positively heavenly good lunch we went off into the forest again. We had barely walked 20 meters when Bruno heard a distant Pavonine Quetzal, one of my all-time most wanted Neotropical birds! Bruno gave the bird some playback and it immediately flew in and started calling right above our heads, amazing!

The remaining part of the afternoon was fairly quiet, but we did see both White-crested- and Golden-crowned Spadebill and an Ocellated Poorwill, which we flushed from the forest floor. A good first day at the Rio Azul!

Tawny-bellied Screech Owl Megascops watsonii (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Long-billed Woodcreeper Nasica longirostris (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Another species almost unique to the Rio Azul Jungle Lodge is the Tapajos Hermit. Described just a couple of years ago this enigmatic little hummingbird has proven very reliable around a patch of red-flowering bushes behind the lodge clearing. Last year a Brazilian film crew even visited the lodge to devote an item to the Tapajos Hermit.

Around sunrise – just after taping in the rare Uniform Woodcreeper - we walked over to the red flowering bushes and there – almost too easy to be true – was the rare Tapajos Hermit feeding actively on those beautiful little red flowers, fantastic! We decided to come back in the afternoon for some photographic documentation of this little known bird, but now it was time to hit the trail.

We started birding the entrance road that runs through some savannah habitat, this proved an excellent choice since Bruno brilliantly picked up a Pale-bellied Mourner on call. This guy is something else when it comes to Amazonian bird sounds!

We spent the rest of the day on the trails through varzea, terra firma and transition forest, looking for specialties, but during the heat of midday we staked out those little red flowers for that little red Hermit. I managed to get some great video and Bruno got some stunning pics.

Today we heard some heartbreaking stories from Carlos about deforestation in Brazil. As we walked through a neighboring range we noticed that almost all the large trees in this area were marked. Carlos told us that these forest giants were soon to be ‘harvested’ for ‘sustainable forest management’, this was written in the ‘codigo florestal’ or Brazilian forest code. We are talking trees that take hundreds of years to reach their height of over 40 meters tall. With the new forest law in Brazil all these trees are allowed to be harvested, as long as they leave the small trees standing. In theory they can come back in 30 years to harvest again. In theory… Here are the facts: (1) THIS IS NOT BASED ON ANY STUDY. (2) ALL THE ANIMALS DEPENDING ON LARGE TREES DISAPPEAR FOREVER (3) THERE IS VERY LITTLE CONTROL (4) MANY PEOPLE IN HIGH POSITIONS GET FAR TOO RICH.

Of course this ‘forest management’ is not sustainable at all, with every huge tree that is harvested 20 or so trees in the direct vicinity die as well. To make things worse they are now trying to pass a new constitution that allows any mega construction project – like hydro dams – to be initiated regardless the possible environmental effects….

Naturally Carlos was sad and felt frustrated about these environmental crimes happening in his own country and we felt that pain with him.

Road through white sand in the Rio Azul area (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Flame-crowned Manakin Heterocercus linteatus (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Glossy Antshrike Sakesphorus luctuosus (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Razor-billed Currasow Mitu tuberosum (Arjan Dwarshuis)

July 23th A MEGA DAY!
Sometimes a day starts a bit slow, but this day can suddenly turn huge trough a couple of once in a lifetime sightings. Today was such a day…

The first hour on the trail went by rather uneventful when out of the blue a huge raptor approached us from left through the rainforest canopy, an adult HARPY EAGLE! My second sighting in two weeks’ time! Even better, it was a new bird for Ies and seeing your first Harpy is a thrilling moment for every birder.

Another hour passed without much happening, but then a CRYPTIC FOREST-FALCON started calling and not long thereafter we had incredible views of a pair of this enigmatic little raptor.

Half an hour later we heard a Plain Brown Woodcreeper calling from the side of the track, an antswarm was near! We walked over to where the sound had come from. A movement in the undergrowth, we aimed our bins, ‘BARE-EYED ANTBIRD’!!

After this incredible morning session we walked back to the lodge euphorically. Than it happened. A huge raptor flew up from the side of the track barely 10 meters away from us. The same Harpy! We thought… The bird perched 40 meters away from us on the other side of the clearing, I aimed my scope and couldn’t believe my eyes. Barred underbelly, black mask, pale head... CRESTED EAGLE!!! For a magical 15 minutes we enjoyed scope views of one of the rarest birds in the amazon. Magic…

But the day wasn’t over yet… After another heavenly lunch – great food on a great day makes that day even better – Bruno and I went to look for the eagle again. We didn’t find the eagle again, but we did find the rare Para Gnatcatcher in a canopy flock!

After all that mayhem we joined Carlos Sr. for a relaxing late afternoon boat trip downstream. The sun had already set when suddenly a ZIGZAG HERON started calling from inside the forest and after some skillful playback from Bruno we enjoyed amazing views of a calling male in the light of our torch. Pfewwww, time for a beer, or two….

Crested Eagle Morphnus guianensis (Arjan Dwarshuis)

After yesterday’s events on the trails we thought we had deserved another boat ride this morning. We had a rocking start with a fantastic sighting of a Brazilian Tapir – representing a new mammal family for both Ies and me - while drifting downstream.

It was quiet with respect to birdlife along the river, but that all changed when we discovered a White-bellied Dacnis perched on top of a riverside tree. We had excellent scope views of this mega Amazonian rarity before it vanished in the canopy. Another memorable sighting was a male Crimson Topaz feeding on insects above the river.

On the trails it was rather quiet today so we decided to go on the river once more in the afternoon. This proved an excellent choice since we found a group of 5 Curl-crested Aracaris along the river.

That night we had another amazing dinner at the Pousada; man I’m gonna miss the amazing food at the Rio Azul!

South American Tapir Tapirus terrestris (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Rio Azul rain forest (Arjan Dwarshuis)

We had 2 hours left on the trails with Bruno before our taxi would arrive to take us back to Alta Floresta airport for our connecting flight to Sao Paulo. During those two hours we managed to find two new birds and luckily they were exciting once namely a Bicolored Hawk and the weird Ringed Antpipit.

Then it was time to say goodbye to the fantastic Rio Azul Jungle Lodge and commence with a long day of traveling towards Itatiaia National Park.

Our stay at the Rio Azul Jungle Lodge was absolutely amazing, not just for the great birds, but also for their hospitality and fantastic food. We felt right at home and will definitely come back someday. And for any birder reading this; well you’ve seen the list of birds, better get your ass down there as soon as possible because it’s absolutely worth it!

Bruno Renno’s guiding was simply top-notch. He is without doubt one of the most knowledgeable people out there when it comes to Amazonian birds and especially their calls. I can highly recommend him to any birder or group of birders visiting this amazing biome, you will definitely not regret it!

On to the Atlantic Rainforest! 

 Arjan Dwarshuis 


Arjan's Biggest Year is supported by: 


Wim ten Have  ·  6 augustus 2016  01:39

Arjan, je hebt het nu al 2x over die Xingu Scale-b. Antbird, maar hij staat niet in je waarnemingslijst. Eén extra?

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