Brazil: Alta Floresta's Cristalino Jungle Lodge Jul 26—Aug 06, 2015

Posted by Andrew Whittaker

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Andrew Whittaker

Andrew Whittaker was born in England but considers himself to be Brazilian, having moved to this biodiverse country in 1987 to work for the Smithsonian Institution, banding...

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The paradise that is Cristalino Jungle Lodge never fails to live up to and beyond one’s already high expectations. This year’s tour again came up trumps with a total of 325 bird species, countless memorable birding moments, wonderful sunsets, clouds of colorful butterflies, and excellent mammal sightings, with no less than 19 species! The highlight for me was observing six huge male Amazonian Umbrellabirds displaying and calling at their lek. With the sun enhancing their iridescent purple blue feathers, they jumped around, displaying in bare branches. This involved pushing forward and putting up their bizarre crest feathers, while the long, pendulous feathered wattles were expanded as they let out strange booming calls. Combine this amazing birding with a fabulous forested lodge, truly wonderful Brazilian home cooking (all served in the new plush, spacious dining and lounge area), and those wonderful and dangerous deserts, and life can’t get much better!

Blue-and-yellow Macaws

Blue-and-yellow Macaws— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

We shared countless unique experiences on this delightful trip that none of us will ever forget, such as dawn breaking over a vast canopy of Amazonia rainforest as a multi-hued green carpet slowly unfolds, stretching as far as the eye can see. The lodge’s two wonderfully constructed canopy towers rewarded us with so many highlights and priceless moments: from wonderful studies at eye level of Blue-and-yellow, Red-and-green, and Scarlet macaws to great Parrots, including the recently described Kawall’s and cool-looking apricot-headed White-bellied, and Blue-headed too; and observing the antics of a raucous group of the odd, shiny, plastic-headed-looking Curl-crested Aracari competing and pushing off a flock of the smaller but equally stunning Red-necked Aracari. Passerine highlights were many too, including multicolored tanagers (in-your-face views of Paradise, voted bird of the trip); Yellow-backed, Red-billed Pied, and Purple honeycreepers; close encounters with Tooth-billed Wrens; a rarely seen and odd-looking Yellow-shouldered Grosbeak; Brown-banded Puffbird; dazzling scope looks at male Spangled and Pompadour cotingas; great looks at a pair of the near-endemic Black-girdled Barbet; a stately White-necked Puffbird; and an odd, flappy-flying Bare-necked Fruitcrow. However, the towers’ grand finale was left to a tiny and cute male White-browed Purpletuft that charmed us by displaying its stunning purple pectoral tufts almost at arm’s-length, which was rightly voted second best bird of the trip!
 
With the drought, forest pools were a real bonus this year, producing the highly sought after endemic Bare-eyed Antbird (bathing); multiple, simply stunning male Snow-capped Manakins; White-winged Shrike-Tanager; Spot-backed Antbird; and even a Gray Tinamou! Forest trails rewarded us with great spotlight views of the newly described Cryptic Forest-Falcon (spotlighted); however, sadly, the newly described Alta Floresta Antpitta was just heard this year. We also had great looks at Chestnut-backed Antshrike and a very confiding Amazonian Royal Flycatcher by its messy nest.

Paca, a rarely seen nocturnal mammal

Paca, a rarely seen nocturnal mammal— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

As to be expected, the mammal show was wonderful, with excellent sightings of 19 species including the endangered endemic White-whiskered Spider Monkey at Cristalino and Black Spider Monkey at Alta Floresta. This year no Tapir (we just narrowly missed one by 5 minutes on a boat trip); however marvelous prolonged close observations of the rarely seen nocturnal Paca, a family of Giant Otters, and also Southern River Otters certainly made up for it!

Relaxed afternoon boat trips on the calm insect-free Cristalino River were a high point of the day: quietly drifting down the black waters as they mirrored the lush, tall tropical forest, contrasting with the blue sky and its huge, towering cotton wool-like cumulus clouds. Our rewards were magnificent Razor-billed and Bare-faced curassows coming down to drink; close studies of the tiny Dusky-billed Parrotlet and Madeira Parakeet at a clay lick; an amazingly responsive pair of Gould’s Toucanets; Red-throated Piping-Guan; endemic Glossy Antshrike; countless exquisite Capped Herons; and amazingly confiding Sunbitterns, along with great studies of the odd-looking Boat-billed Heron.

Paradise Tanager

Paradise Tanager— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

 

 

 

 

 

 

The enchanting Serra Trail produced a wonderful day-roosting Common Potoo. With not much in flower, unfortunately, hummingbirds were not abundant this year. However, the amazing clouds of colorful butterflies that graced the lodge beaches daily, bringing us every color in the rainbow, made up for this.

Not to forget our exciting birding excursion around the lovely forested Alta Floresta grounds, which were also extremely productive, with a stunning pair of Chestnut-fronted Macaws observed mating; so close studies of Yellow-crowned and Mealy parrots; and scope looks at Yellow-tufted Woodpecker. For a grand finale, a magnificent flock of near-endemic Crimson-bellied Parakeets in the pink flowering tree was priceless!
 
All in all, a wonderful group of birders enjoyed a wonderful Amazonian experience with many unforgettable memories. I cannot wait to return to this Amazonian paradise next year!