Far more exciting than little brown jobs and more diagnostically challenging than waders the Hummingbirds provide the birdwatcher with plenty to enjoy and plenty to learn.
They form the family Trochilidae, often placed somewhere close to the Swifts in traditional classifications and depending on how they are lumped or split there are somewhere between 325 and 340 species.
They tend to be small, most are in the range 7.5 to 13 cm. They are the only birds that can fly backwards when they want to. Their energy requirements are very high, their payload isn’t so they run on a very tight energy budget. They have some special adaptations, such as the ability to enter a state of torpor, to bridge non feeding periods. Despite the challenges some species make long migration flights. They meet their energy requirements from a diet of nectar and the remainder of their nutrition is from insects.
Humming birds are only found in the Americas, a few make it as far north as Alaska and as far south as Southern Chile but the species diversity is highest in tropical central and South America. Colombia alone has more than 160 and the small country of Ecuador has about 130 species. Ber van Perlo lists 80 for Brazil.
Part of the challenge in identification of Hummingbirds is due to the way their colours are made. Much of their colour is structural in origin, the play of light on the prisms within their feathers can turn a dull bird into a blaze of glory. They pose a considerable problem for the illustrator.
Here are a few that I photographed in Brazil …
The Brazil travel series has been a great success for the blog … traffic has increased dramatically. Thank you to every one that has visited, do come again it ain’t finished yet.
But now seems a good time to say a few thank yous.
A wildlife trip to foreign parts is a complex undertaking. If you were to organise it yourself you’d have to research the places, the animals, the accommodation, connecting travel and more. And you still wouldn’t be as up to speed as the local talent.
Australia is home, here I do my own leg work. Overseas I go to Zegrahm Expeditions, they have taken me to both ends of the earth and many places in between. They deliver a superb product.
The trip to Brazil was led by Mark Brazil, yeah, really. He is English, lives in Japan and leads trips to some magnificent wild destinations. I first met him on a trip to Iceland. He has a PhD in avian ecology. He is very generous with his knowledge but just as importantly he will look after you while you are his guest.
The local talent was Frederico Tavares cofounder of Brasil Aventuras. Brazilians are an open warmhearted people but Fredge stands out as even more warmhearted than the rest. This man knows his wildlife, shares his knowledge and will shepherd you through airports where English may not be spoken and procedures may be a little different. These two guys have been working together for a few years now and have ironed out most of the wrinkles but they are not resting on their laurels. After our trip was over they were off to research more sites of interest, check out the accommodation and look for ways to make a trip to Brazil even better.
Thanks guys, many thanks.
At breakfast time!
The call came, “There’s an anteater at the bar”.
The breakfast room cleared in a flash and we all headed down the path, past a couple of lagoons, ignoring the Caimans and Capybaras, a Sunbittern and Rufesent Tiger Herons.
And there it was, outside the bar, meandering across a grassy patch towards the road, majestic and weird …
After two nights on the Pixaim river we headed to the very lovely Araras Lodge, an absolute jewel in the Pantanal.
There are several lagoons adjacent to the lodge and a boardwalk that takes you through some fine forest to a tower. From the top of the tower you have a view of the surrounding plains as well as the nearby forest canopy. The wildlife abounds.
There is also a bar just a short and pleasant walk from the lodge. A good place to haunt during the hottest part of the day … if you can drag yourself away from the pool.
The forest yielded Olivaceous, Great Rufous, Straight-billed and Planalto Woodcreepers, Cream-coloured Woodpecker, Blue-crowned Motmot, White-wedged Piculet and many more. Plus Capuchins, Marmosets and Azara’s Agouti. Around the lodge it was necessary to keep the birds off your plate!
Some of the stars (click on the photos for a better view) …
Chestnut eared Aracari.
And next … to the bar at breakfast time. The best excuse ever!
When darkness falls there is a changing of the shifts. The same habitats are exploited by a different suite of animals, sometimes in a different way.
Over a few nights of spotlighting we compiled quite a list of night birds and mammals.
Birds included the Pauraque, Spot-tailed Nightjar, Nacunda and Band-tailed Nighthawks, Great and Common Potoos, Boat-billed Heron and Great Horned Owl.
Mammals included Crab-eating Fox, Crab-eating Racoon, White-lipped Peccary, Red Brocket and Marsh Deer, Tapir and Fishing bats.
Of particular note was the Brazilian Rabbit. How do you tell a Brazilian Rabbit from a common rabbit? By careful inspection of its pubic region, of course.
The most spectacular find was on our last evening when we had excellent views of an Ocelot.
Unfortunately, I have no photos taken at night to share but I did come across a Great Horned Owl at its day time roost …
A couple of days of river cruising turned up Marmosets, Capuchin and Howler Monkeys. Capybara were common, Marsh and Red Brocket Deer were seen occasionally. The Giant Otter chose to spend a little time watching us each day …
Yacare Caiman and Green Iguana represented the reptiles, and so did the Common Tegu. At first glance this appears to be a Varanid, a family that is well represented in Australia, in fact it’s not that closely related … another case of convergent evolution.
Snakes were mainly absent. Where was my Anaconda? This one let us have a good look, I’d be delighted if anyone can identify it for me …
Birds are plentiful along the river, they included Black-capped Donacobius, Undulated Tinamou, Bare-faced Curassow, Blue-throated and Red-throated Piping-Guan, Hyacinth and Yellow-collared Macaw and Sungrebe.
Star of the show … Sunbittern.
Oh, and there goes another Piranha, this time in the talons of a Great Black-Hawk …
We spent two nights at the Pantanal Mato Grosso Hotel, right on the riverbank. A sizeable Caiman had found its way onto the verandah in front of one of the rooms. The polished concrete was too slippery for it to gain a purchase with its feet. Before the lucky guest could access their room the caiman had to be carefully assisted back onto the grass.
The days were spent on the river, after dark we went spotlighting in the back of a truck.
After a while the boatman dropped in a line. Within seconds he had a Yellow Piranha.
What with them and the caimans the life jackets may not have been a lot of use.
The poor fish was banged on the head and then thrown out. Well educated birds were waiting. First in was a Black-collared Hawk.
Subsequent fish were claimed by Great Black-Hawks and by Cormorants.