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Paraguay October 2009 (1 Viewer)

antshrike69

Well-known member
Some time ago, I decided that the pain of reaching the old 4-0 might be alleviated by birding a country with some real specials. Not necessarily huge numbers of new birds, but some really stonking megas which are well off the usual circuit. Several possibilities were toyed with, and originally I had settled on trying for species like Golden Parakeet and Harlequin Antbird in Brazil. Unfortunately, problems with ground agents meant that by August, the trip was still not falling into place and I was starting to worry about getting it sorted for Oct/Nov. Eventually, I made a decision and jumped ship from the Brazil idea, settling on Paraguay as an alternative.

Paraguay is a country which few visit, whether for birding or general tourism. Its snug position tucked between Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia mean it has a good range of SE neotropical species, although the lack of mountains restricts this somewhat. The lack of a coastline also hinders racking up a huge list, but most of these species would be familiar ones anyway.

More importantly for me, the country has some good chaco and cerrado with many (although not all) of the special species these habitats hold. It also has Atlantic forest - crammed full of endemics. Many of these would be old friends from SE Brazil and Argentina trips but there were a few key birds which had eluded me until now.

As far as megas go, there are two incredible nightjars - White-winged and Sickle-winged. Both are rare, extremely localised and threatened. It doesn't hurt that they are both spectacular too. My other main target was Vinaceous Amazon - a species in real trouble over its entire range and a member of my favourite genus. Paraguay is a good place to see this species, although even here it is in decline.

I had little time to organise the ground arrangements and quickly discovered one recurrent problem with going off the beaten track. A complete lack of gen. I tracked down Paul Smith at Fauna Paraguay, who was able to organise all the ground assistance. This proved invaluable - doing this trip truly independently would be extremely tricky. Some of the sites require permit access and throughout the trip necessitated multiple phone calls to check and recheck that permission was still in place.

Transport was mostly in 2WD although 4WD was needed for a couple of locations. Paul accompanied us for the chaco section of the trip. Rob Clay, who works for Birdlife, was with us for the second leg. Funnily enough, I was at Cambridge with Rob back in the day, and spent many hours in the pub with him and the rest of the university bird club. In summer breaks, we organised university expeditions and one summer I spent three months in Colombia studying white sand forest endemics, while he (and several other mates) studied White-winged Nightjars amongst others in.... Paraguay! Maybe this was a seed...|:d|
 

antshrike69

Well-known member
So, after several weeks batting emails to and fro, an itinerary was decided on. The first half was straightforward, as I've not birded cerrado or chaco before and the key birds were pretty predictable. The second leg was built around my target list - most people would spend significantly more time in Atlantic forest where species such as Helmetted Woodpecker amongst others are possible. My Atlantic wish-list was very specific, and where possible we combined sites for these birds with grassland sites to expand the possibilities. We also tied in the odd 'cultural' site were appropriate and plenty of opportunities for mammals and other taxa.
 

antshrike69

Well-known member
8-9/10/09

We left Gatwick mid-morning for the short hop to Madrid with Aerolineas Argentinas. Flight schedules had proved tricky, and we had found ourselves with 8 hours in Madrid. Although I have routed through the city many times, I've never been into the centre. We hopped on the metro and spent a very pleasant day wandering around the main sights before retiring to a cafe in a central plaza.

Several caipirinhas later, we managed to find our way back to the airport for our overnight flight to Buenos Aires which took off on time (allegedly, I was already asleep..) and after a brief change of planes, the hop to Asuncion landing mid morning. The airport was tiny and chaotic, but eventually we extracted our luggage and arrived at the Hotel Portal del Sol where there was time for a swim in the tiny freezing pool before eating. The Glittering-bellied Emeralds at the Lantana flowers by the tables were indication we were in the neotropics, as were the Greyish Saltators squabbling on the edge of the pool.
 

antshrike69

Well-known member
10th Oct

Leaving Asuncion early, we headed westwards towards the chaco. Paraguay is split into two by the river of the same name and there is a a dramatic difference between the west and the east. Today's drive was to take us 400km to dry thorny chaco. This year's rains had been sparse and the landscape was even drier than usual with very few pools or lakes present.

As we worked our way west, we stopped to bird wherever the habitat looked promising. Although wet areas were scarce, we did pick up our first Jabiru, Wood Storks and Maguari Storks by the dozen. Plumbeous Ibis were new to me - strange prehistoric-looking ibis and very vocal. Limpkins were abundant and the occasional Giant Wood-Rail appeared on the verge of the road.

Birding grassy open areas produced Brushland Tinamou and Chaco Nothura (a possibly rather dubious split from Spotted Nothura which replaces it further east and Paraguay's only 'true' endemic bird). The first chaco passerines included the outrageous Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper with its awesome curved bill showing as it probed the cacti, and the equally unique Lark-like Brushrunner feeding in small groups on the ground. White Monjita sallied for insects from gate posts and the stunning Many-coloured Chaco-Finch perched up along the track.

We arrived at Loma Plato in the dry chaco zone before dark and settled our stuff in. This was also our first introduction to the Paraguayan taste for concrete frog statues complete with bonnets and frocks. Smaller versions in plastic were available to buy in local shops. Odd and strangely chilling.
 
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antshrike69

Well-known member
1. Plumbeous Ibis
2. Many-coloured Chaco-Finch
3. Concrete Frog (male)
4. Concrete Frog (female)
5. Frog on bike in plastic, bonnet included.. (as for sale in local supermarket)
 

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stephennj

Well-known member
I spent a little time in the interior state of Sao Paulo and found a few of your species listed. Looking forward and licking my chops for updates !
 

antshrike69

Well-known member
Thanks guys! It's always difficult knowing how relevant reports from places like this are to the majority but it might make it easier if anyone decides to follow suit.
 

antshrike69

Well-known member
11th Oct

Our first stop this morning was Laguna Capitan - a ranch which seemed to be holding a major celebration for the local community judging by the number of pick-ups parked outside. More on the Mennonites later.... ;) but for now, we decided against birding here due to the disturbance and moved on to Camp Maria a ranch further on.

Despite having agreed access in advance, we were prevented from entering the property by an overly eager neighbour who was in charge while the owners were at the nearby hoe-down. After much reasoning (by us) and beard-stroking (by him) the net result was nada. By now it was roasting hot, and lunch time. The complete lack of trees along the dirt highway made finding an alternative place to stop tricky. The best we could come up with was a small dirt 'roundabout' at an intersection with a few shade trees. Pluses included a surprising number of birds taking advantage of the cool; negatives included the entire local population of under 25s doing wheelies on their motorbikes around the junction in a 'Grease' stylee. We used the full advantage of our englishness and bemused them by setting out a large picnic in the dust and eventually they gave up and left.

Refreshed we set off in search of targets. Three very sorry-looking Southern Screamers were sat next to one of the only patches of water in the entire area and our first Greater Rheas of the trip were welcome. At some salt pans, a variety of waders included Stilt Sands, Wilson's Phals and Collared Plovers and a very jumpy Upland Sandpiper. More importantly, a loud wolf whistle emanating from behind the pans led to a trio of Stripe-backed Antbirds. There's no such thing as a duff antbird IMHO and these were real babes, tarting around in the scrub and showing amazingly well.

The diversity of mammals here was obvious in the prints around the pans - tapir tracks were everywhere. While examining one set, I flushed a female Scissor-tailed Nightjar from the Salicornia-like vegetation which was the only one we were to see this trip.

Heading back towards the rooms, we managed to get a puncture but Fidel was on it so fast we were straight back on the road. A brief night drive produced some cool frogs and a huge Saturnid moth which almost eclipsed the rear view mirror before a massive electrical storm stopped play.
 

antshrike69

Well-known member
1. Spot-backed Puffbird
2. Rhea print
3. Perfect spot for a picnic
4. Listen for those wolf whistles...
5. Tapir print
 

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antshrike69

Well-known member
12th Oct

Hoping that the party would be over by now, we returned to Campo Maria where we were given permission to enter the estancia without any problems. The track in is rough-going - last night's brief storm had produced a lethal top-layer of wet clay on the dusty road and eventually the inevitable happened and we slid into the ditch! Luckily, a small truck was passing and pulled us out - the only other vehicle we saw for hours. The estancia is an active cattle ranch with some pretty fiendish knots holding various gates up. Some being very Krypton factor. The habitat here is dry chaco surrounding dried out lagoons, with one central lake. Even this was reduced to a small area of drying mud full of animal tracks. Vegetation is chiefly scrub with the occasional tree.

Birding the margins produced a showy pair of Chaco Earthcreepers singing from the thorny bushes and flashing their white throats. This species can be tricky at many sites, but this seems a reliable place for them. In a similar vein were Red-billed Scythebill and more Scimitar-billed Woodcreepers. A beautiful pair of Ringed Teal were on one of the remaining pools with a group of Brazilian Ducks.

With the Earthcreeper under our belt, we turned to our other main target. Playing the tape repeatedly was producing no response, but this was a bird I had really wanted to see in Paraguay. We climbed a small mound to a viewing tower and scanned the trees with no success. Making a plan, we decided to walk in a wide arc through the scrub, playing the tape and scanning as we went. Several hours later, bingo! Cream-backed Woodpecker! A female bird, it was on a small knarled dead tree. We inched closer, getting good views before the bird flew in a big circle over and past us. Something made me walk across to the tree itself in case there was a nest hole. Not only was this the case, but the male bird flushed from the base of the tree where he had been obscured by long grass. Fantastic woodpeckers - big, loud, charismatic and beautiful. I fired a few digiscoped photos, which would be perfect for a mystery bird competition...

Heading towards home, we stopped for lunch in a burger place in a supermarket in the town. This was a surreal experience for several reasons. Firstly, I remain unconvinced that a 'vegetarian sandwich' should strictly speaking always contain ham. The Paraguayans would argue otherwise. Secondly, it was our first real introduction to the world of the Mennonites. These people settled in Paraguay early last century under the promise of free land in exchange for religious freedoms. They still speak a germanic language (many spoke little or no spanish as far as we could tell), and are very conservative in dress and lifestyle. The only toys the supermarket sold were tractors or jigsaws of happy children planting pumpkins and you buy your milk direct from the bulk tank. All very interesting....
 

antshrike69

Well-known member
1. Chaco Earthcreeper - one cool bird
2. Nest hole of Cream-backed Woodpecker
3. Can you guess what it is yet? (clue - Cream-backed Woodpecker...)
4. Very cool lizard - Pointed-nosed False Chamaeleon. It moves like one and everything.
 

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antshrike69

Well-known member
1. Wide range of toys for Mennonite children
2. Milk buying the environmentally-friendly way. Bring your own bottle.
3. What happened to all the spanish?
 

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Andrew Whitehouse

Professor of Listening
Staff member
Supporter
Scotland
Interesting report Jonathan. The Chaco's a funny place. A friend of mine lived there for a couple of years and used to regale me with strange tales of Mennonites. And of unbearable heat.
 

antshrike69

Well-known member
It's an education Andrew! The temperature peaked around 3pm and was pretty unbearable when the sun was out fully. Luckily we had unusual amounts of light cloud which helped with comfort as well as bird activity levels when we were in the west.
 

antshrike69

Well-known member
12th Oct (cont)

After resting from the heat for an hour or two, we headed out again, targetting a couple of key species. The first was Little Thornbird - easy: just find a nest and wait. While admiring the thornbirds, a Great Rufous Woodcreeper appeared in the next tree - a real hulk of a bird - and two White-fronted Woodpeckers in the cacti alongside. The alternative name of 'Cactus Woodpecker' seems so much more appropriate - these birds really do look most on home on the big columnar cacti that are so common here.

A beer pitstop refreshed us ready for a night drive. Some top mammals included Crab-eating Raccoon (completely fearless) and a totally crippling Geoffroy's Cat which showed eye-shine way down the dirt road. We drove up to it only to watch it amble past the car a few feet below us, following the line of the roadside ditch. Awesome! There were plenty of interesting frogs - Paul knows his stuff on amphibia and came in very handy here. Favourites were the 'racing car frogs' which inflate their bodies and give a nasal whine like a car cornering at Brands Hatch.

Bird-wise, the highlight was a beautiful Little Nightjar spotted from the road. I walked into the scrub and stalked it resulting in superb in-hand views. Several others were also seen.
 

antshrike69

Well-known member
1. Little Nightjar
2. Little Nightjar in the hand
3. Little Thornbird nest
4. Cactus Woodpecker (on cactus...)
 

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