Archive for the ‘Paraguay’ Tag

2015 – That was the year that was   Leave a comment

With 2015 over this post looks back over the year at some of the places we have been, birds we have seen, music we have heard and people we have met.

Of course, much more detailed accounts can be found clicking on the relevant month from the list on the left of the screen (or sometimes the month after if the post was uploaded a while after the event).

IMG_4325 Purps

The year started with the traditional New Year’s Day bird boat, kindly arranged by Mark and Mo Constantine for Dorset birders. These Purple Sandpipers were photographed on the Sandbanks side of the chain ferry on 1/1/15 . Also in early January I took part in the annual winter bird race, recording an amazing 126 species in Dorset in 12 hours.

IMG_0533 Lear's Macaws

The first foreign trip was to NE Brazil which lasted more than three weeks but resulted in me seeing over 70 life birds – by far the most of any trip of the year. There were many highlights, one being cracking views of the wonderful Lear’s Macaw in a very dramatic setting.

IMG_1818 rainbow

Here I photographed the nearby town through a rainbow whilst staying at the lovely and very birdy Serra Bonita reserve.

IMG_2550 Rick Wakeman

As well as travelling we both have a keen interest in music – be it old favourites from my past like Rick Wakeman, whose keyboard skills in the band Yes were much appreciated in my youth ….

IMG_0315 Paloma Faith

…. to more modern acts like Paloma Faith. We saw Rick Wakeman in February and Paloma about a month later in Poole and Bournemouth respectively.

IMG_2841 North Cape

In early March we took advantage of a charter flight to Tromso in arctic Norway where we boarded the Hutigruten coastal steamer and journeyed around North Cape at the top of Norway in the hope of seeing the Aurora Borealis ….

IMG_2713 aurora (best)

…. which indeed we did on four nights out of five. We were lucky as some do this trip yet come away disappointed, but if we had gone about 10 days later we might have had a truly spectacular display as the aurora was seen as far south as Norfolk.

IMG_3665 Sandhills

We booked on the Birdquest tour to Colorado that started on April 1st but we spent the last week of March on our own touring Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. The main reason for this visit was to see the incredible gathering of hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes on Nebraska’s Platte River. We also visited the Badlands of South Dakota ….

IMG_3987 Mt Rushmore

…. saw the Presidents heads at Mount Rushmore, the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and even drove into Montana to look for the ‘dental floss bushes’.

IMG_4439 WT Ptarmigan

For one reason or another I never got round to editing all my photos of Colorado nor did I post any on the blog but it was a superb trip and one of the highlights was finding these almost invisible White-tailed Ptarmigan at 12500 ft in the Rockies. Perhaps I can find time this year to sort out the Colorado pics.

IMG_7191 The Matterhorn

Early May saw us taking a fortnight in the Alps and southern France, seeing such wonders as the Matterhorn (above), Mont Blanc and the Eiger. I also saw what was probably the last regularly occurring European bird that I needed, the elusive Rock Partridge.

IMG_8055 Elizabeth and Marc

The whole trip was a prelude to attending Margaret’s nephew’s Mark’s wedding to Elizabeth in Donbirn in western Austria. The only downside to the trip was that I found out whilst there that my next tour, a cruise in far North-east Russia had been cancelled as the necessary permit hadn’t been issued by the Russians.

IMG_8656 WW Black Tern

Late spring brought some great birds to the Poole Harbour area, such as the Red-footed Falcon that hung around the Wareham water meadows or this White-winged Tern at Swineham gravel pits.

IMG_8606 Margaret

In June Margaret had the privilege of being invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. It was the centenary of the WI and each one of the 8000 or so WI groups across the UK was invited to send one representative.

IMG_8696 Moody Blues

Back to music again: we went to a very entertaining concert by the Moody Blues in June. Some great old songs with a great visual effects, the three founder members and four new ones all performed very well.

IMG_6213-Nightjar-fem-for-email

During the summer our group was asked to undertake an intensive radio tracking study on Eurasian Nightjars on one of the local heaths. The data is still being analysed but the initial results seem very interesting.

IMG_8786 Amber and Kara

At the end of the spring term our granddaughter Kara (R) left school to attend a sixth form college. During the summer she and a friend visited relatives in the Caribbean. Her sister Amber (L) left Dorset to study and work in Cornwall.

IMG_8829 Margaret & Jennie

Staying on the subject of family; during late June and early July Margaret and I visited her daughter in Essex and my brother in Derby. We also visited several sets of friends including Jennie, a friend from university days, seen here with Margaret at Wicken Fen reserve in Suffolk.

IMG_9006 Leds Town Hall

We continued on to Leeds where we spent time with Nigel, another friend from school and university days.

IMG_6416 Lytchett Heath dawn

Much of July and August (and indeed the rest of the autumn) was spent in our ongoing ornithological research at Lytchett Bay and Durlston. We were able to start ringing at a new and highly productive site at the north end of Lytchett Bay where this photo was taken soon after dawn.

IMG_9121 Hen Harrier Day Poster_edited-1

One issue that featured heavily during the summer was the campaign to save England’s remaining Hen Harriers. Although this has highlighted before on the blog it deserves repeating. All the evidence points to a systematic, ruthless and totally illegal program of raptor extermination in Britain’s uplands by a small number of people in an attempt to raise grouse stocks to hugely inflated numbers. The loss of these beautiful raptors is a national disgrace and the campaign for their protection will continue unabated in 2016.

IMG_6399 Killian and DIMW

We met many old friends at the Bird Fair in Augustand attended a number of talks. Without doubt the most inspiring was vetran birder Ian Wallace’s account of his best ever day’s birding. His contribution to ornithology and birding is immense. Here he is seen talking to another birding legend, Killian Mullarney fro Ireland.

IMG_6430 Wryneck DCP

Ringing continued on a regular basis throughout the autumn producing many interesting recoveries and useful data. The most unusual aspect was the enormous influx of Goldcrests in late October and November, but I suppose the individual bird that gave me the most pleasure was this Wryneck that I trapped at Durlston in September.

IMG_6437 Guy & Lila

It’s always good to stay in contact with old friends and it was good to see Guy Dutson in early September, back for a short visit from Australia with his daughter Lila.

IMG_0585 dawn Laguna Blanca

In late September/early October I went on a tour to Paraguay. The birding was excellent and the company good but it was very hot, particularly in the first week and the mammal sightings were disappointing. Compared the mountainous parts of South America, the scenery wasn’t that awe-inspiring, but the mists over Laguna Blanca at dawn were most photogenic.

IMG_0328 WW Nightjar

We saw some wonderful birds, non more so than these two species: White-winged Nightjar ….

SW Nightjar J Newman

…. and Sickle-winged Nightjar. The latter was of particular importance to me as it was the 8000th species I have seen. The bird was trapped by the tour leader as he is taking part in a research program on this threatened species and he wanted to see if it was one of the individuals he had already ringed. In my photo the bird has closed its eyes which looks less appealing so I have used one taken by my friend Jonathon Newman.

IMG_1444 Hagia Spohia

The last trip of the year was in late November to Turkey. It was a cultural, rather than a birding trip and we visited some great sites in Istanbul such as the magnificent Hagi Sophia ….

IMG_1769 calcite formations

…. and some natural one too like the beautiful calcite formations at Pamukkale.

IMG_2244 Jools Holland

Also in the latter part of the year we went to a couple more musical performances, veteran folk singer Judy Collins in Wimborne and Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra at the BIC.

IMG_6777 Boxing Day dinner

And the year ended, as all years should with get togethers with family and friends at Christmas time.

As I said at the start each picture above is taken from a blog post during the year. If you wish to see more photos from that event then cloick on the relevant month on the side bar.

Well, may I take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy 2016, if you are a birder like me, may the year bring you lots of excellent sightings, if you are not perhaps you ought to give it ago, buying a pair of binoculars and a field guide back in 1977 was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Paraguay part 3: Mbaracayu, Hotel Tirol, San Rafael and Yacyreta -28th September – 6th October 2015   Leave a comment

This post covers areas of Atlantic Forest and mesopotamian (between rivers) grasslands in eastern and southern Paraguay.

From Laguna Blanca we headed south to the Mbaracayu Biosphee Reserve, 70,000ha of Atlantic forest and cerrado, arriving just before dark.

IMG_0892 forest stream

Our full three days at Mbaracayu were spent on narrow forest trails, some near the lodge, some further away or driving to more distant cerrado habitat for specific birds.

IMG_6514 wet trail

Heavy rain had made some trails rather wet ….

IMG_6509 dodgy bridge

…. and the bridges just got dodgier ….

IMG_6512 v dodgy bridge

…. and dodgier.

IMG_0714 Suracura Trogon

But we were rewarded with some excellent forest birds like this Surucua Trogon ….

IMG_1003 Bare-throated Bellbird

…. the very vocal, yet elusive Bare-throated Bellbird ….

IMG_0748 Helmetted WP

…. and two enormous and rare woodpeckers – Helmeted ….

IMG_1100 Robust Pecker

…. and Robust.

IMG_0802 craking

A lot of time was spent in this area of cerrado trying to locate the elusive Occelated Crake.

IMG_0793 Mbaracayu savana

Although I saw it, my views weren’t as good as those had by most. A few of the group returned one evening (it was a 90 minute drive from the lodge on rough roads) but I declined to go as I thought I stood a better chance of goodies down by the river, but they got cracking views of the crake and several owls and tinamous on the return drive! You can guarantee that when there is a choice to be made in birding location that I will choose the wrong one!

IMG_0789 Collared Crescentchest

We all got great views of Collared Crescentchest in the cerrado ….

IMG_0718 PlumbeousKite

…. and flocks of migrant Plumbeous Kites were all over the place.

IMG_0930 emerging termites

The kites were probably feeding on the winged termites or alates which emerged from the many termite mounds.

IMG_0932 emerging termites

Using flash it was possible to see that the mounds were covered with flightless worker termites ‘waving goodbye’ to their winged siblings.

IMG_0667 butterflies

Mbaracayu was an amazing place for insects, some, such as legions of biting mozzies and sand flies were unwelcome but we also say a wonderful array of butterflies ….

IMG_0831 cricket

…. crickets ….

IMG_0826 praying mantis

…. and back at the ledge, a praying mantis ….

IMG_0851 moth

…. and enormous numbers of superb moths ….

IMG_0856 butterfly

…. and butterflies ….

IMG_0810 tree fall

Our nocturnal drives produced several nightjar species and the much wanted Black-capped Screech Owl ….

IMG_0807 tree fall

…. but we were hindered by a tree that had fallen across the track, which had to be removed by brute force.

IMG_0697 BC Tityra f

The trees in the clearing by the lodge were very good for birds including a nesting pair of Black-crowned Tityras

IMG_6520 Dani's birthday

The lodge is adjacent to a girl’s school where they teach the girls, among other things, the tourist trade. The girls who served us our meals were very pleasant and cooked a cake for Dani, one of our drivers ….

IMG_6521 Dani's birthday

…. as it was his birthday.

IMG_6525 girls Paul and Rob at Mbaracuya

The lodge at Mbaracayu, the girls and leaders Paul and Rob.

IMG_1014 hotel tirol

The long drive south to San Rafael was broken by a night at the Hotel Tirol near Encarnacion. The hotel fell into the category of ‘faded elegance’ and seemed to be a series of rooms and buildings connected by endless red-brick arches.

IMG_1011 hotel tirol

…. and the hotel had a stand of Atlantic forest in its grounds which allowed us to add birds like ….

IMG_1035 Ruby-crowned Tanager

…. Ruby-crowned Tanager ….

IMG_1053 Euler's fly

…. and Euler’s (pronounced ‘oilers’) Flycatcher to our lists.

IMG_1084 San Rafael

At our next destination, San Rafael, we stayed in fairly basic accommodation (made more basic by the fact that there was power failure) at an adjacent farm.

IMG_1070 San Rafael

The farmer cuts the sedges in the meadow twice yearly to provide grazing for his cattle and apparently crakes often run out of cover as he does so. Conveniently he had planned to do this on our arrival.

IMG_6534 farmer and guinea pig

He leapt off his tractor and was able to catch this guinea-pig or Brazilian Cavy before releasing it in an area of sedges away from the meadow ….

IMG_1076 Red & White Crake

…. but the highlight was this wonderful views of this Red-and-White Crake that paused briefly before legging it to a nearby ditch.

IMG_1091 San Rafael

The reserve consists of a large tract of Atlantic forest surrounding this lake where we saw excellent species like the newly split Purple-crowned Plovercrest ….

IMG_1098 White-spotted WP

…. and White-spotted Woodpecker.

IMG_1121 San Rafael

Much further away we birded in an area of grassland where we saw the fast declining Saffron-crowned Oriole ….

IMG_1131 sunset & bugs

…. and after dark saw the amazing Giant Snipe (see my account of north-east Brazil in February for photos of this wonderful bird)

IMG_1306 Dark-billed Cuckoo

The last stop on the tour was at Yacyreta, an area of mesopotamian (literally ‘between rivers’) flooded grassland close to the Paraguay River and the border with Argentina. Many species were seen here including the rare Dark-billed Cuckoo ….

IMG_1238 Ochre-breasted Pipit

…. and Ochre-breasted Pipit ….

IMG_1231 Ochre-breasted Pipit

…, from the back a species that is reminiscent of the Palearctic (and vagrant to the UK) Pechora Pipit.

IMG_1346 Monk Parakeets

I’ll end this account with a photo of one of the commonest birds in all of Paraguay, Monk Parakeet. Their giant stick nests are everywhere, on power pylons, telegraph poles, trees etc. There is a small population of released birds in the UK, if they ever get established, expect some objections from the electricity and telephone companies.

 

By the end of the trip I recorded some 400 species (including 23 heard onlys) and had 20 life birds.

There is one birding site and one bird that I have omitted to mention, one that against all odds ended up becoming a land mark bird for me and the de facto ‘bird of the trip’. I think it deserves a post of its own!

Paraguay part 2: Laguna Blanca and surrounding areas – 26th – 28th September 2015   1 comment

This post covers the drive from Asunción to Laguna Blanca and Laguna Blanca and surrounding areas and will be the second of three posts on this wonderful country.

Progress with uploading these photos has been slow, partially due to my continued efforts to get as much autumn ringing at Durlston in as possible, preparing slide shows for various societies, but mainly due to a computer error (that I still can’t fathom out) leading me to lose several hundred edited photos from the Paraguay trip. Fortunately I still had the originals but re-editing them has taken ages.

 

IMG_9911 Asuncion Bay

After the very hot and sunny conditions in the Chaco we encountered dull conditions and a 20c degree drop in temperature for the next few days. Before we left the capital we made a short visit to an area known as ‘the bay’ a marsh on the banks of the Paraguay river, unfortunately the best areas for migrant waders and other interesting birds have been destroyed by road building.

IMG_9889 LB Tern

There weren’t that many highlights at ‘the bay’ but we had good views of Large-billed Terns, a species I refer to as ‘Sabine’s Terns’ due to the striking resemblance of their upper-wing pattern to the enigmatic high-arctic gull.

IMG_9926 Jacanas

Muddy creeks, littered with discarded bottles, were full of jacanas but very few migrant waders.

IMG_6487 Asuncion

We later drove through Asunción, seeing a mix of attractive old buildings and modern high-rise.

IMG_6490 Asuncion

As with all South American cities Asunción has its poorer side as well.

IMG_0004 LW Harrier

We stopped on route at a number of marshy areas, seeing a number of excellent species such as this Long-winged Harrier.

IMG_0103 WH Marsh Tyrant

White-headed Marsh Tyrant was a welcome addition to the trip list but one I had seen many times before ….

IMG_1187 Lesser Grass-finch

…. however Lesser Grass Finch was a new bird for me.

 

IMG_0084 Strange-tailed Tyrant

But the most exciting moment was seeing the wonderful Strange-tailed Tyrant, one of the main reasons for visiting Paraguay.

IMG_0028 Many coloured Chaco Finch

Other birds seen in these roadside marshes included the attractive Rusty-collared Seedeater ….

IMG_0176 Field Flicker

…. ‘Field’ Flicker these days, unfortunately, lumped with Campo Flicker ….

IMG_0124 Shiny Cowbird

…. the ubiquitous Shiny Cowbird ….

IMG_0628 YC Spinetail

…. the rather poorly named Yellow-chinned Spinetail ….

IMG_0142 Streamer-tailed Tyrant

…. and an amazing pair of displaying Streamer-tailed Tyrants, at 40cm in length, probably the largest of all the tyrant-flycatchers.

IMG_6492 Laguna Blanca

In the mid afternoon we made it to our accommodation at Laguna Blanca, which consisted was a series of fairly basic rooms with bunk beds by the lake shore, but with the toilets and showers 100m away. It was wet for much of our time here so this ment putting on wet clothes/boots for a nocturnal visit to the loo.

IMG_0615 Laguna Blanca

The lakeshore was very attractive ….

IMG_0220 Ash-throated Crake

…. and we had just enough time before dusk to obtain good views of an Ashy-throated Crake.

IMG_0356 night drive Laguna Blanca

However it was our nocturnal wanderings that was the highlight of our time at Laguna Blanca, indeed the highlight of the entire trip.

IMG_0304 WW Nightjar

It didn’t take too long to find our quarry, the rare White-winged Nightjar.

IMG_0290 WW Nightjar

We were able to move into a position where we could all see it well without flushing it, this one turned out to be a female. Know only from a three sites in Brazil, two in Paraguay and one in Bolivia, this is a highly range restricted and endangered bird.

IMG_0274 WW Nightjar

Flash photography revealed the details of its plumage, but females don’t have the eponymous white wings so the search for a male continued.

IMG_0328 WW Nightjar

Eventually we saw a male in display flight, fluttering around to reveal its white wings and deliberately landing heavily on the ground with a thump. No photos were obtained in flight, but we did get this cracking view of it on a branch. This bird, above all else was the reason I came to Paraguay.

IMG_0332 Common Potoo

On the way back we came across another stunning nightbird, the bizarre, although widespread, Common Potoo.

IMG_0481 WW Nightjar m

The following day was wet, windy and rather cool. We went out looking for goodies like Cock-tailed Tyrant and as we wandered through the wet cerrado Richard accidentally flushed this male White-winged Nightjar.

IMG_0485 WW Nightjar m

…. and I managed to get a couple of mediocre flight shots showing the wing pattern from above ….

IMG_0482 WW Nightjar m

…. and below. It seemed at the time that this would be the undoubted ‘bird of the trip’ for me but there was another encounter right at the end of the trip that would push it into second place. More of that later.

IMG_0519 Buff-bellied Puffbird

It wasn’t just us who got soaking wet, this Buff-belied Puffbird looks in need of a hair dryer.

IMG_0404 White-rumped Tanager

Other birds seen that morning included White-rumped Tanagers and ….

IMG_0381 Shrike-like Tanager

…. the aptly named Shrike-like Tanager ….

IMG_0439 Cock-tailed Tyrant fem

…. and this bedraggled female Cock-tailed Tyrant (note the falling rain drops in the photo).

IMG_0474 Cock-tailed Tyrant

Eventually the cute little male Cock-tailed showed well.

IMG_0537 sunset

Much of the afternoon was given over to searching for tinamous with varying degrees of luck. As darkness fell breaks in the cloud appeared ….

IMG_0551 eclipse

…. which was good news as there was an eclipse of the Moon that night. As usual we had an early start so I didn’t stay up to see the Moon fully covered by the Earth’s shadow and anyway as the photos were hand-held, I probably wouldn’t be able to take photos at totality anyway.

IMG_0585 dawn Laguna Blanca

The following day with all the moisture in the air, the sunrise over the lake was spectacular ….

IMG_0588 dawn Laguna Blanca

…. as the sun rose and shone through the mist ….

IMG_0576 dawn Laguna Blanca

…. the entire lake lit up in a dazzling show of light.

IMG_0605 cobwebs

So that was our time at Laguna Blanca over. Unfortunately this marvelous area with its fascinating wildlife is under threat. The reserve is leased by the conservation organisation Para la Tierra but the owner’s plan to sell. Although Para la Tierra has first option to buy they will be competing against rich cattle ranchers and soy farmers. A recent competition which secured EU funding to the winning applicant failed by a narrow margin. Unless external funding can become available this precious site could be lost forever.

 

Paraguay: Part one – the Chaco, 19th – 25th September 2015   Leave a comment

The post covers the first part of my recent trip to Paraguay and covers the areas to the north and west of the capital Asunción.

Apologies for not updating the blog for over a month. As we are still in the peak of autumn migration, after my return I have been ringing at Durlston as often as the weather would allow and have spent the remainder of my free time keeping the ringing paperwork up to date.

The trip to Paraguay was a collaboration between Birdquest and the Neotropical Bird Club designed to raise funds for the NBC conservation fund. There were ten participants and three leaders (two of which gave their services for free) which made it somewhat congested on narrow forest trails, but these numbers were needed to raise sufficient funds.

I arrived early and spent a relaxing day in Asunción, getting over jet lag and doing a little birding in the hotel garden. Our first destination was the ‘humid chaco’ a seasonally flooded area to the west of the Paraguay River.

IMG_9420 Chaco

To the north and west of Asunción lies the humid chaco, a region of seasonally flooded scrub, marshes and lakes interspersed with strange Bottle Trees. During our drive to Laguna Capitan we stopped many times along the main route to Bolivia for birding.

IMG_9137 Rufous-sided Crake

Among the many birds we saw was this Rufous-sided Crake ….

IMG_9152 Donocobious

…. and several Donocobious, a bird that has been moved from one family to another over the last 30 years before finally being put in a family of its own.

IMG_9277 Buff-necked Ibis

Roadside pools held the elegant Buff-necked Ibis ….

IMG_9862 Plumbeous Ibis

…. the much rarer Plumbeous Ibis ….

IMG_9201 Ibis

…. and huge numbers of Bare-faced Ibis.

IMG_9812 Jabirus

Three species of stork occurred, Maguari, Wood and the rarer Jabiru (above).

IMG_9825 Jabiru

Jabirus must be the largest and most spectacular stork in the world.

IMG_9858 imm Snail Kite

Snail Kites, which feed almost exclusively on the apple snail were abundant in some areas.

IMG_9345 Flamingos, Black Skimmer, LB Tern_edited-1

On the largest lagoons Chilean Flamingos were common ….

IMG_9348 Black Skimmer, LB Tern

…. along with Black Skimmers and Large-billed Terns. I have nicknamed the tern ‘Sabine’s Tern’ due to the similarity of their upperwing pattern to that enigmatic arctic gull. I hadn’t realised until this trip how different the skimmers from Amazonia (which winter in Paraguay) were. We saw some later near Asunción and they differed more from the regular Black Skimmer than the Indian or African Skimmers do. Time to get the DNA test kit our methinks.

IMG_9330 Chilean Flamingos

Chilean Flamingos are the most widespread of the four New World species and can be easily identified by their red ‘knees’ (actually the tibio-tarsal joint or ankle).

IMG_9258 Chilean Flamingos

Chilean Flamingos in flight.

IMG_9323 Gtr Legs

There were a number of Nearctic shorebirds wintering in the area such as this Greater Yellowlegs (the last time I saw this American species was in Hampshire this summer) ….

IMG_9272 Wilson's Phal

…. the elegant Wilson’s Phalarope. Scottish born Alexander Wilson (1779 – 1813) is considered the father of American Ornithology and his name is commemorated by a storm-petrel, snipe, plover and warbler as well as a journal of ornithology and an orthitholgical society.

IMG_9300 Collared Plover

In contrast to the shorebirds above, this Collared Plover is a Neotropical resident and was exhibiting clear territorial behaviour on the shoreline.

IMG_9437 main road to Boliviar

North of Laguna Capitan the main road deteriorated badly. Although paved, the thin veneer of tarmac had eroded away and we bumped and grinded from one pot hole to the next over a period of six or seven hours.

IMG_6470 driving in dust

Unless you were in the front vehicle (we were in four 4x4s) this was your view for much of the day. Fortunately it was my turn to be in the front on the return journey, so I had an unobstructed view for part of the time.

IMG_9472 BL Seriema

The highlight of the day, indeed one of the highlights of the trip, was great views of Black-legged Seriema. Unlike it’s red-legged cousin, this is a hard bird to see. I have heard it on two previous trips, so was very glad to get such good views. A pair strode along the roadside ….

IMG_9488 BL Seriema

…. and even stopped and displayed, uttering their unearthly wails and showing off their orange gapes. The two seriemas species are the ecological equivalent of the Secretary Bird of Africa (snake predators) but are unrelated. It is thought the seriemas are more closely related to falcons than other raptors and are the closest living relatives of the 3m tall ‘terror birds’ which were apex predators in South America until felines and canines colonised from North America after the formation of the Isthmus of Panama 2.5 million years ago.

IMG_9543 Chaco accomodation

Now in the thorny ‘dry chaco’, we stayed in basic accommodation in Enciso National Park, not far from the Bolivian border. This tree ouside our rooms was full of Monk Parakeet nests, which are made of sticks from thorn bushes. As a result it was impossible to walk anywhere without getting thorns stuck in your boots.

IMG_9513 a night in the museum

‘A night in the museum’. Temperatures were much higher than expected, reaching at least 42 and not dropping below 30 at night. When we found the rooms had no AC, some of us opted to sleep in this small museum which did. However there weren’t enough beds so I slept on a mattress on the floor trying my best to avoid the big spiders and other bugs. We stayed there two nights, so we had ‘A night in the museum 2’ as well.

IMG_9359 sunset

The high temperatures whipped up a strong breeze, which in turn lifted a lot of dust into the atmosphere. At dusk the sun glowed a lurid red in all the haze.

IMG_6461 moth in chaco

The entire trip was full of invertabrates, whether it be the unwelcome biting mosquitos, sand flies, ticks and chiggers or elegant moths, butterflies and preying mantis.

IMG_9564 Little Nightjar

Night-time birding was succesful with lovely species like Little Nightjar ….

IMG_9388 Tropical Screech Owl

…. Tropical Screech Owl ….

IMG_9376 Chaco Owl

…. and best, of all my lifer Chaco Owl.

IMG_9585 Rob Rococo Toad

Here leader and Paraguayan resident Robb Clay holds an enormous Rococco Toad.

IMG_9399 Lark-like Bushrunner

It is interested to speculate why so many Chaco birds have crests. Here are three crested furnarids – Lark-like Bushrunner ….

IMG_9520 Brown Cacholote

…. Brown Cachalote ….

IMG_9604 Crested Hornero_edited-2

…. and Crested Hornero. Hornero is derived from the Spanish for oven because of their oven-shaped mud nests and the family name the Furnariidae or ovenbirds share this derivation.

IMG_9530 chaco rd

We did a lot of driving on the chaco’s dirt roads both by day and by night looking for mammals and nightbirds. We packed into the front vehicles, either inside or on the flat-bed, and then drove two-a-breast on the deserted roads. Once another car came the other way and flashed his lights at us, our driver responded by briefly putting on the mounted searchlight, which was followed by blue-and red flashing lights from the other car – yes, it was the police! Fortunately they passed us without issuing a ticket.

IMG_9440 Pampas Fox

The tour had been advertised as one of the best in South America for mammals but this aspect of the tour proved disappointing. Our night drives failed to deliver the hoped for Tapir, Puma, Ocelot, Jagurundi, Jaguar, Geoffrey’s Cat, Maned Wolf or Chaco Peccary. Instead we had to console ourselves with views of a rather tatty Pampas Fox ….

IMG_9428 Grey Brocket Deer

….and a fleeting glimpse of a Grey Brocket Deer.

IMG_9506 Turquoise-fronted Amazon

Birds did not disappoint however. Here is a selection of Chaco specialities: Turquoise-fronted Amazon ….

IMG_9547 Green-barred Pecker

…. Green-barred Woodpecker ….

IMG_9268 RB Peppershrike

…. a relative of the vireos, the Rufous-browed Peppershrike ….

IMG_9427 Woodcreeper sunbathing

…. a sunbathing Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper ….

IMG_9610 FT Fly

…. the ubiquitous, yet beautiful Fork-tailed Flycatcher. This species is an inter-tropical migrant and sometimes overshoots and turns up in North America, having got as far north as Canada and once reached El Rocio in Spain!

IMG_9198 White Monjita

Another beautiful tyrant flycatcher was the White Monjita

IMG_9185 Guira Cuckoo

The ‘punk-crested’ Guira Cuckoo was common. Apparently the original collector asked the indigenous Guanari what they called it, they replied ‘Guira’ which is guanari for ‘bird’ So really its a ‘bird cuckoo’.

IMG_6478 tropical rattlesnake

A Tropical Rattlesnake provided some entertainment.

IMG_9635 Crowned Eagle

We had a distant view of a pair of raptors that might have been the huge Crowned Solitary Eagle (that’s almost an oxymoron), so we were delighted when on our way back south we had cracking views of one on a roadside post.

IMG_9851 Rally

The area was gearing up for a major car rally and we met processions of super-chargers racers going in the opposite direction.

IMG_6479 3x4

Our Paraguayan drivers, Toni, Dani and Franci were all ex-rally drivers but it wasn’t their driving, but the appalling state of the road that cause this wheel to fall off. Incredibly a part was sent out from Asunción, the drive shaft and brake lines were fixed by the driver at the roadside and the car was with us the following day! We started with four 4×4 but had to put up with three 4x4s and a 3×4 for 24 hours.

IMG_9433 4 pack bottle tree

On the way north we detoured to a spot where our local leaders knew of a nest hole of the huge yet rare and elusive Black-bodied Woodpecker. The nest hole was easy to find – adjacent to this four-pack Bottle Tree.

IMG_9412 White Pecker

However the large hole had been taken over by a pair of much smaller but more aggressive White Woodpeckers. We headed north knowing that our best chance to see the rare Black-bodied had been lost.

IMG_9710 BB Woodpecker

But on our way south we gave it another go and after about an hour the Black-bodied arrived and was promptly chased off by the White Woodpeckers. However it settled down not far away and we go some great views.

IMG_9722 Chaco Peccaries

There had only been a brief sighting of peccaries by a couple of the group at dawn. So we took a chance to visit a centre where the endangered Chaco Peccary is being bred for release in the wild. Unusually this species forms a defensive formation when threatened, which means that if one is shot by poachers then they can all be easily shot. Hopefully education will teach the hunters how endangered this species of wild pig really is.

IMG_9732 Collared Peccary

Also held captive was the much more widespread Collard Peccary, an animal I have seen as far north as Texas.

IMG_9744 White-lipped Peccary

But the White-lipped Peccaries amazed us. Far more aggressive than the other species Whitelips have been known to kill dogs and even people. The males would rush at the fence that separated us from them, baring their teeth, making a loud clicking sound and releasing a pungent scent. As in the wild they can go round in herds as big as 150 individuals, they are clearly not to be messed with.



From here we overnighted in a town originally established by Mennonites of central European descent before returning to Asunción. The second part of the trip to areas east and south of Asunción will appear as soon as I have edited the photos.