Thursday, 6 August 2009

Sao Paulo August 2009

02 August 09

The great thing about working through the night and landing at 05.00 is that you don’t have to get out of bed to go bird-watching. By the time we finished disembarking, completed the Brazilian formalities and arrived at the hotel, it was 07.30. Sao Paulo Botanical Gardens (Jardim Botanico do Sao Paulo http://www.ibot.sp.gov.br/ ) opens at 09.00 every morning except Monday, when it is closed all day.
I arrived shortly before 09.00, scouted round a nearby car park and found, Black Vulture, Plain Parakeet, Ruddy Ground-dove, Greater Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied Thrush and Bananaquit.
The entrance cost 3Reais (@£1 = 3.2 Reais) and I was asked to sign a disclaimer stating that I would not use any of my photos for commercial purposes.
Immediately inside the gate was a fruiting, fig-like tree. It was full of thrushes. Both Rufous-bellied and Pale-breasted Thrushes and Palm Tanager.
For a reason that I have yet to fathom, on the first day for ages with decent light, I decided to follow the dimly lit forest path. Thrushes and Bananaquits kept up a constant squeaking, but a different, measured “chit”, caught my ear. The bird was completely black except for the silver-grey bill and the white underwing coverts which he flashed in concert with his call. It was a male Ruby-crowned Tanager and the female revealed herself shortly afterwards wearing her warm, caramel brown plumage with notably rounded lobes at the end of her tail.
Another call attracted me, but the bird stayed frustratingly elusive. I picked up a few marks from quick glimpses, enough to narrow it down to a spinetail of sorts. There are many furnariids which all look very alike so I needed more to get a good ID. The call was repetitive so I pished the same rhythm with some success. Eventually, I noticed the bird scrutinizing me through a gap in the foliage. I quickly noted as many field marks as I could on my dictaphone and then dived for the field-guide. The chap in question was a Rufous-capped Spinetail.
A group of howler monkeys (red?) crossed high above the trail. They seemed to be responding to some other howlers calling in the distance.
Back in the gardens, I was watching a flowering tree, hoping for a Bananaquit or a Swallow-tailed Hummingbird to come and feed in the good light. I noticed a security guard watching me. Behind him, a path ran along the edge of the forest and on it, I spotted a Slaty-breasted Rail, so I ignored the guard and tried to get some pictures.
A Southern House Wren was gleaning in an open tangle and a Picazzuro Pigeon sat at the top of a dead tree.
It was 11.00 by now and warming up nicely. The guard had taken a seat and was watching me at his leisure. I wondered if the lakes might provide a bit of odonata action, so I took a seat on the grass near the edge. Nothing was moving yet, but a Rufous-collared Sparrow, flew in and settled beside me. A Great Kiskadee was hawking across the lily-pads from a low perch.
The dragonflies didn’t start to show until gone 12.00. By then a second security guard had taken over Redgannet watch while the first one had a break. I think I may have found as many as 8 different odonata, but will need to do some research to identify them properly.
My original guard returned from his lunch and we continued on our way. I never did find out why he was so interested. Perhaps he thought I was vulnerable and a target for ne’er-do-wells, but inside the gates and fences of the gardens, I felt very safe. The only other visitors to the gardens were families with small children and other photographers, so why they singled me out for special attention, I don’t know. In fact, I would stick out my neck and suggest that it is probably one of the safest places in Sao Paulo to wander about with expensive camera gear.
Heading back towards the entrance, I passed a small remnant of forest and was rewarded with a good view of a Squirrel Cuckoo.
For my next trick, I wanted to investigate the deeper lakes in the fields close to the road. The guard finally lost interest when we arrived back at the entrance gate. Thinking, I was going home, he peeled off right. I went left towards the lakes which are surrounded by long tangled grasses. A flock of smooth-billed Anis were moving through the grass like rodents scurrying about. It was hard to tell how many they were, but they were very approachable. One in particular sat and allowed me to approach within the minimum focussing distance for the Canon 100-400mm.
Out in the lakes were some roosting Neotropic cormorants and some ducks. It is unfortunate that the zoo and it’s wildfowl collection is so close by. There was a potential lifer among the ducks. A pair of Speckled Teal and a Silver Teal were paddling towards the far bank. They are marginally outside their normal distribution area, which makes me suspicious that they may have skipped over the fence from the Zoological Gardens half a mile down the road. The Brazilian Teal looked much more wary than the ones I had seen on the bank of the ornamental lakes in the gardens, so I will take those and check up on the others to see if they merit a tick.

To reach Sao Paulo’s Botanic Garden, take the Metro Train (R2.55) to Sao Judas and take a bus, no. 4727/10 (R2.30) towards the Zoological Gardens. The bus take 10-15 minutes.
Alternatively, take the Metro to Conceicao (just before Jabaquara at the end of Linha 1 or Azul (Blue) Line). Take a taxi from here to Jardim Botanico, Parque do Estado, Cursino (10 mins, Reas15 (@ 2.60 = £1)). The gardens are open daily from 09.00 until 17.00, but are closed on Mondays.
If you are unable to find a taxi for the return, there is a bus stop just outside the main gate. Most buses pass close to a Metro station. Make yourself familiar with the Metro Logo and look for it on the side of the bus. Better still bring the number of a recommended taxi firm.

Bird Species seen
Neotropic Cormorant 12, Great Egret 3, Brazilian Teal 2, Yellow-billed Teal 2, Silver Teal 1, Black Vulture 20, Slaty-breasted Wood-rail 1, Common Moorhen 4, Picazzuro Pigeon 6, Ruddy Ground dove 2, Plain Parakeet 60, Squirrel Cuckoo 1, Smooth-billed Ani 8, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird 1, Rufous-capped Spinetail 1, Social Flycatcher 2, Great Kiskadee 15, Blue and White Swallow 8, Southern House Wren 2, Pale-breasted Thrush 2, Rufous-bellied Thrush 30, Bananaquit 8, Ruby-crowned Tanager 2, Sayaca Tanager 2, Golden-chevroned Tanager 1, Palm Tanager 2, Rufous-collared Sparrow 3.

Mammal Species seen
Howler Monkey 7.

03 August 09Parque Ecologico do Tiete is sited close to a poor part of town in one of the world’s most crime-ridden cities. I would have to be on my guard today. Actually, it was not at all as I had expected. When I arrived, I passed through a security gate and noticed the children’s playground and picnic area on my left and even a small museum. People were jogging even ladies by themselves. It was not the isolated primeval swamp that I had envisaged. Just the same, I felt conspicuous with a tripod over my shoulder and a big camera attached. An overhead photograph served as a guide, but I did not notice the one-way arrows which indicated that travel round the 4km loop should be anti-clockwise.
Black Vulture

Rain clouds threatened early, but the rain held off for most of the day, with sunny spells giving some good periods of light.
There were 4 Southern Caracaras in the playground, so naturally I started off towards them.

Beyond the falcons were some Coati, the Central and South American relation to the racoon and beyond them still, an Agouti fed close to the edge of the forest. The Agouti looks like a cross between an antelope and a rodent.
The path curved round to another picnic site. Here, the bins had been raided by monkeys and the litter had been strewn all around. The monkeys are known locally as Macaco prego. They look like capuchins. Despite the mess now, there was no litter beyond the immediate vicinity so the bins had obviously been used by the sophisticated Paulistas over the weekend. At 08.00 patrols were already out cleaning up after the monkeys. If only we could be this diligent at home.
The nearby forest edge was quiet at the moment. I imagine that many birds would prefer to be where the Coatis and monkeys are not, so I moved on beyond the picnic area. A small area of grass was bordered on one side by secondary forest and on the other by a good size lake. A Masked Water-tyrant was stalking in the grass. From the edge of the lake came a long rattling call like a tone-deaf Dabchick. It was another spinetail type of bird, low down in the trees overhanging the water. I narrowed my options and realised that it’s behaviour and habitat probably left me with one choice. The mark under the chin of the Yellow-chinned Spinetail can be difficult to see, but luckily a pair was building a nest and would raise their heads showing under their chin as they manoeuvred nesting material into position. A White-headed Marsh Tyrant alighted on the same tree to see what was going on. Further down, a Striated Heron was sitting quietly.
Along the side of the lake, Bottle-brush trees were alive with Bananaquits and hummingbirds. Swallowtails were especially common with a few Sapphire Spangled Emeralds.
A little café drew me close with the smell of breakfast and from there, I cut across the playing fields. A hawk soared above the ubiquitous football pitches. I had to check it up in the field guide and found it was a Short-tailed Hawk. A small group of trees had bare branches poking out from the top. A small group of birds were squabbling in the dead snags. Even from a good distance off in light drizzle, I could pick out the brilliant blue of the male Swallow Tanager. They dispersed as I approached, but kept to the tops of the trees. The female has a lovely plumage of green with a barred vent. I had to use a flash to get any sort of picture in the darkness.
I cut across to the path which forms a spur from the main loop and found a marshy area on the other side. A rail was foraging amongst the low water plants, but I never managed to get a good look.
At that moment, a car approached and stopped beside me. The door opened.
“This is it,” I thought, “I’m about to be mugged.”
I have often wondered, when I get mugged, as I surely will one day, how it will happen. Will it be a grab and run, aggressive threats or violence? How will I react?
In anticipation, I have run many scenarios through in my head to ingrain the thought that whatever they might steal is insured, so comply and don’t try to be an idiot. It’s not worth it.
I was surprised therefore to see a beautiful young lady get out of the car. Now I have run scenarios through my head about beautiful young Brazilian ladies, but mugging had never been the central theme of these daydreams, so I wasn’t sure how to react, but was ready to comply and be an idiot, as soon as she gave the word.
She had seen the camera and binoculars and was interested in what I was seeing. She asked how many birds I had seen (I think I exaggerated). I even caught myself primping and wishing I had not taken G’s advice to dress down.
The Wattled Jacanas and Smooth-billed Anis were left un-watched while we chatted. A Southern House Wren may, or may not have called. She was a biologist researching a reforestation project to replace the alien eucalypts with native species. All too soon she was gone.
To my left the path curved round a bend. There was a large area of eucalypts round there Juliana, for that was her name, had told me and there was not much to see in this monoculture, so I headed right, ie north-eastish.
Sayaca Tanager

This brought me back on to the loop, going the wrong way, but I didn’t know any better, nor did I care. Juliana is a biologist. Did I mention that?
Between the 4km and 2km markers, there are marshes on the outside of the loop and lakes on the inside. Small trees and scrub line the road and quite a few visitors were walking in the opposite direction. The call of the Yellow-chinned Spinetail was becoming quite familiar now, as was the Southern House Wren. I had hoped for a few dragonflies from the marshy area, but had to be satisfied with just a couple of exuvia.
At 3kms was a large, open wet area. This was the most productive spot of the day and gave me another opportunity to see the rail after I had been so delightfully interrupted earlier. It was a Blackish Rail. There were also Rufous and White-faced Whistling Ducks, White-cheeked Pintail, teal, moorhen, jacana, and ani. A Limpkin roosted in a tree overlooking the water. It looked as if large plants had died back for the winter and the area will probably be very thick with vegetation when spring returns.
The foetid, stinking River Tiete, drains the poor neighbourhoods upstream and had been a constant presence on the air all morning. Capybara trails occasionally give access to the riverbank and the awful water. Surprisingly, the river was teeming with birds. Most commonly, moorhens, but also Rufous Whistling Ducks, Smooth-billed Anis and Black-necked Stilts. I emerged back onto the path and scared the willies out of an old gentleman on a bicycle who was passing. He wobbled off anti-clockwise and I continued my tour against the flow.
I was pishing for a wren, when I saw something move in the bushes. Thinking it was the wren, I was surprised to see an orange face looking back at me. This is a job for “Aves da Grande Sao Paulo”, I thought. This is a field guide that limits the amount of eliminating needed, but which has some notable omissions. In the tanager section though was a perfect representation of what I had just seen. An Orange-headed Tanager.
The last kilometre was being strimmed as I passed along it. It was nearly 15.00 by now and I was thinking about getting on home. Whilst I had not encountered any threatening behaviour or felt at all uncomfortable I would not care to put my luck to the test as dusk approached, so I didn’t linger any longer than was necessary. There had even been security patrols in marked cars. They were infrequent, but a welcome thought. I did stop once to check a thrush which looked different to the more familiar Rufous-bellied Thrush. I noted the darkness round the eye and the yellow bill which I established was required for the Creamy-bellied Thrush. Eight lifers for the day and thanks again to G.L. for the useful directions and info. I must owe him a beer soon.

To get to and from Parque Ecologico do Tiete, take a Metro train to Bras, then follow signs for the CMPT. The train to Calmon Viana departs from platform 7. The station for the park is Engenero Goulart.
The ticket for the metro costs R2.55 and is valid for the journey to Eng Goulart. A CMPT ticket must be bought for the return.
Turn right out of the station and follow the wall to a tunnel which passes under the train tracks. There should be a sign to the park from here. Follow the road 200m to a T-junction and turn right. 500m along this road, the entrance to the park is indicated by a sign, through a tunnel under the motorway.
Security may wish you to purchase a special permit for a large camera.

Bird Species seen 45
Pied-billed Grebe 2, Neotropic Cormorant 8, Anhinga 1, Great Egret 2, Snowy Egret 4, Striated Heron 4, Black-crowned Night Heron 3, Fulvous Whistling Duck 60, Black-bellied Whistling Duck 150, Brazilian Teal 18, White-faced Pintail 40, Black Vulture 60, Short-tailed Hawk 1, Southern Caracara 12, Limpkin 3, Blackish Rail 3, Common Moorhen 60, Wattled Jacana 5, Black-necked Stilt 15, Southern Lapwing 12, Picazzuro Pigeon 8, Ruddy Ground Dove 6, Plain Parakeet 12, Smooth-billed Ani 40, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird 20, Sapphire-spangled Emerald 6, Rufous Hornero 2,Yellow-chinned Spinetail 8, Masked Water-tyrant 4, White-headed Marsh-tyrant 3, Great Kiskadee 4, Blue and White Swallow 25, Southern House Wren 10, Creamy-bellied Thrush 2, Rufous-bellied Thrush 8, House Sparrow 2, Common Waxbill 15, Bananaquit 15, Orange-headed Tanager 1, Ruby-crowned Tanager 6, Sayaca Tanager 6, Burnished Buff Tanager 2, Swallow Tanager 5, Red-crested Cardinal 2, Rufous-collared Sparrow 5.

Mammal Species seen 5
Coati 35, Capybara 1, Cappuchin Monkey 120, Agouti 1,


05 July 09


There was a Simpson’s sky this morning. Time to go home at lunch-time, but just enough time for a quickie to Ibirapuera Park, 5 minutes and 15 Reais in a cab.
The first bird I saw this morning was an Egyptian Goose, which reminded me that the wildfowl collection on the lake could be frustrating.
For reasons I couldn’t put my finger on, I felt a little nervous and decided that carrying the tripod would be more conspicuous than I would like, so I left it behind and went commando. It was just a funny gut feeling that had not affected me yesterday, but today, it was nagging.
Sayaca Tanager

There is a security gate for vehicles which I passed through. Beside the gate are some bottle brush trees. These had Swallow-tailed Hummingbird and Bananaquit. Rufous-bellied Thrushes were common on the lawns and Plain Parakeets were flying over.
On top of a decorative conifer, was a Chalk-browed Mockingbird and some Red-shouldered Macaws screeched from the palms near the buildings. The macaws are likely to be a result of escaped birds.
The first decent picture of the morning was in the car park. They came out really well, but I have one tiny niggle; I wish that the background had been a nice natural substance instead of asphalt. First a Cattle Tyrant. It was picking it’s way across the car park towards me, so I sat on the kerb and waited for it to approach. The same routine worked for the Rufous Hornero too. The trees behind me were casting a dappled shadow, but there were enough gaps in the winter foliage to let the light through and the birds obligingly kept to the well-lit patches. I had to get in front of the Rufous-bellied Thrush for a good angle. It came really close to drink from a puddle beside the kerb. I loved this coquettish pose. On my way home later, there were Saffron Finches at the same spot.
Close-by, a bridge spans a narrow part of the main lake. On both sides of the bridge are red-flowered trees beloved of the swallowtails and Bananaquits. I picked one in full sun and settled down to wait for the birds to come to me.
That niggling feeling was still bothering me, so I had strategically chosen to face a tree on a downward slope with the sun behind me. This way anyone approaching from behind would cast a long shadow giving me plenty of warning.
A Swallow-tailed Himmingbird was sitting in a tree above me, but he didn't seem inclined to feed. I wondered at his widely splayed tail. Was this a display? And if so was it to attract the ladies or to deter rivals. Perhaps it was a female.
Nothing had happened after half an hour, until the student toilets from the building behind me backed up and overflowed right across my little patch of calm. Trucks with pumps and pipes came and flushed it all through into the lake.
I moved on to another patch of trees. There was lots of action here.
At last I found some hummingbirds feeding, though more practice is needed to get better photos. I need a faster shutter speed to stop the wings and still maintain detail. A faster shutter speed would have been good for the Bananaquits too as they are constantly moving. Being handheld this morning allowed me to get to the shots more quickly, but I would have liked to have had that extra support from a tripod (I broke my monopod last night). In a blossom tree was an Epaulet Oriole. Plain Parakeets moved in to the tree, and fed on the flowers. It was interesting to note that 3 different birds fed on the same flowers in 3 different ways. The parakeets sever the petal and drop it to the ground after licking out the pollen. The hummingbird uses it’s long bill to reach deep into the flower, while the Bananaquit pierces the base of the stalk to get the nectar. I crossed the bridge to have a mooch about on the lightly wooded lawns on the other side of the lake. Rufous Hornero

I usually find a pepper-shrike over here, but not today. instead, there was a Picazzuro Pigeon
By the lake was a Snowy Egret which I was able to approach very closely. I talked to the bird as I approached and stopped occasionally to take a shot. Then I would inch closer before the next one, all the time talking in a low voice. I got to within 3 meters when a Great Egret flew in and landed beside my new friend and bullied him away.
Ibirapuera Park had a good security presence this morning. I saw probably about 20 private and municipal security men walking and cycling through the park. I did feel uncomfortable on a couple of occasions when people showed more interest in me than was strictly necessary. Mind you, I was lying on the ground beside the stinking water, talking to a big white bird!

Bird Species seen 26
Neotropic Cormorant 6, Cocoi Heron 1, Great Egret 1, Snowy Egret 1, Striated Heron 1, Black Vulture 30, Common Moorhen 2, Southern Lapwing 8, Picazzuro Pigeon 3, Eared Dove 4, Ruddy Ground Dove 1, Red-shouldered Macaw 8, Plain Parakeet 40, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird 12, Rufous Hornero 8, Cattle Tyrant 2, Great Kiskadee 4, Blue and White Swallow 8, Chalk-browed Mockingbird 2, Rufous-bellied Thrush 30, Bananaquit 30, Sayaca Tanager 8, Saffron Finch 4,Rufous-collared Sparrow 6, Shiny Cowbird 10, Epaulet Oriole 4.