Brazil: Amazonia on the Rio Roosevelt Mar 25—Apr 04, 2017

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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A unique and truly magnificent pristine Amazonian wilderness awaited us as we took off on our private charter flight from Porto Velho, our destination the exclusive, plush Pousada Rio Roosevelt and its fantastic birding! We launched ourselves back in time to 1913–14, following in the footsteps of the ex US president Theodore Roosevelt on his famous River of Doubt expedition. Teddy himself actually camped on April 21, 1914 on the exact same beach (below the Santa Rita rapids) where today the magnificent Rio Roosevelt lodge stands! However, our luxury experience, with 24-hour AC, delicious meals, ice cold drinks, roasted Brazil nuts, and special tropical fruit desserts to die for, was far from what Roosevelt, Candido Rondon (the famous Brazilian explorer), and George Cherrie (a famous American naturalist and explorer) and their men experienced!

Blue-headed Parrot

Blue-headed Parrot— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

 

So famous was this expedition to map the unchartered 1,000 mile-long remote Rio da Dúvida, “River of Doubt,” that Brazil renamed it the Rio Roosevelt, in honor of the great man himself. Furthermore, in 1956 the Amazonian state of Rondônia was declared and named in honor of Cândido Rondon, while Cherrie (who collected specimens during the course of the expedition, including many new animals and insects) became famous too, with the Cherrie’s Antwren named after him.

Our first birding in Porto Velho Park was truly rewarding with a non-stop action-packed afternoon introducing us to the extremely rich Amazonian fauna. A fruiting fig tree provided great looks at male Spangled Cotinga; stunning Paradise, Turquoise, Masked, and Swallow tanagers; Purple Honeycreeper; and Chestnut-eared Aracari. Other highlights included Blue-headed Parrot, Swallow-winged Puffbirds, Crimson-crested and Yellow-tufted woodpeckers, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Southern Lapwing, and a cool-looking male Pink-throated Becard.

Many of you had already read the fascinating book, The River of Doubt, and were full of anticipation and excitement as we boarded our private charter, our destination the famous pristine Amazonian wilderness of the Rio Roosevelt and our plush lodge. Soon we had left behind the bustling town of Porto Velho, its murky white waters of the mighty Rio Madeira (visible on our left) before a vast green carpet of forest unfolded before us, stretching to the horizon. Broken only by the huge Samuel hydroelectric dam, we all were mesmerized by the vast Amazon rainforest below, bisected by remote meandering rivers (both black and white water); then we crossed the largest, the Ji-Parana (an important biogeographical barrier) too. Soon we began to spot mosaics of stunted sandy-belt campina forests and natural Amazonian savannahs bisected by taller gallery forest. This feature is what gives the name to the immense Campos Amazônicos National Park covering almost a million hectares, or 2.37 million acres, which is home to our lodge. After about one hour we started our gradual descent over the rainforest; soon we could pick out immense, colorful pink flowering 150-foot emergents. At last there it was, our first breathtaking view of the remote and spectacular Rio Roosevelt, its turbulent and infamous white water rocky rapids clearly visible amongst the black waters and the sandy beach of the lodge. Before we knew it we had landed on the remote airstrip, the gateway to our Amazonian paradise. Our bags were unloaded and taken to our lodge while we walked, birding our way along the same portal that Roosevelt had used, by the side of the infamous Santa Rita rapids (inferno) to our exclusive lodge, home for the next exciting weeks of birding.

Read Andrew’s full report in his Field List.