Friday (Day 3)
Today’s plan was for what is probably the longest distance travelled during one of the lodge’s excursions – the Three-toed Jacamar trip. Before that, of course, was the obligatory hour over breakfast touring the garden (or more literally, carrying breakfast around the garden while looking for new birds). It had seemed yesterday that the Blond-crested Woodpecker was a little shy of our presence, so we crammed into the hide first thing, and were rewarded with the appearance of the selfsame bird shortly after, this time happily feeding on one of the hung bunches of bananas. There was conversely no visit from the Spot-billed Toucanets this time, but the hummingbird feeders were graced with the presence of a Black Jacobin, which had been reported to have left for the Winter. The Long-billed Wren was calling again near to the pool, but this time rewarded our tracking efforts with a prolonged calling display.
The journey to the excursion area took around two hours, and passed through a couple of unkempt and large towns, where the morning traffic slowed our progress considerably. Shortly after traversing the second of these, we turned off the main road on to a minor well kept paved road, and parked in an open valley, surrounded on either side by grassed hills, with a small stream and pasture land to one side. Slowly walking along the roadside, we quickly spotted perched Roadside Hawk (on a fence post) and American Kestrel (on a dead tree further up the hill). We scanned the stream for some way, but were only rewarded with a small group of noisy Chopi Blackbirds flying in. Just before the van picked us up again, a Cattle Tyrant was spotted amongst grassy tussocks with a group of Ruddy Ground Doves.
The second stop, not far along the road from the first, was a more enclosed valley, with marshy pasture and low reeds to one side. Cirilo had been expecting one or two goodies here, but none of his wish list seemed to appear, including Serra Antwren, which he was dutifully trying to tape lure from the trees. A Savannah Hawk was spotted perched some distance away, and the first of a good number of Masked Water Tyrants played near to the road. Before leaving, we walked to the entrance gate of one of the farms, and were rewarded with a group of Blue-winged Parrotlets in the tree overhead and a Violet-capped Woodnymph feeding close to.
Before taking a refreshment break, we stopped in the car park of a roadside cafe overlooking some impressive pasture land in the surrounding hills. This should have been a quiet lookout, but this solitude was interrupted by some roadworks nearby. The landscape was perfect for birds such as (the absent) Seriemas, but we only succeeded in picking out a Glittering Bellied Emerald, Brown-chested Martins and a hunting American Kestrel. Cirilo was disappointed at the low showing of birds so far, although we had still enjoyed the experience. Just down from this stop was a rather nice small town, compact and with an alluring central square. We parked up here and were taken to what appeared to be a regular haunt for the birding day trippers – a small cafe with some excellent friendly staff. We were offered a drink and what looked like pastry filled with cheese, delightfully embellished with the juice from a jar of fiery hot peppers. The application using a straw seemed the sensible option, but we made sure not too much was applied.
From the town, we took a track which wasn’t tarmacked, and took our first stop next to a couple of farmsteads, with open pastured hills to one side, and marshy pasture the other. This was quite a little hotspot, since the White-tailed Hawk we had seen just before stopping was followed by a perched Yellow-headed Caracara. Rufous Honero was also followed by a small group of Rufous-fronted Thornbirds playing amongst some stacked logs. The marshy pasture to the left played host to a family of Chestnut–capped Blackbirds, and a Yellow-browed Tyrant hawked from the bushes. A White-barred Piculet made a brief appearance before flying on. Walking a little further, the bird life increased even more, as the habitat became more varied. The open pasture widened to a larger area, and the red track was overlooked by an avenue of tall trees. Chalk-browed Mockingbirds and Smooth-billed Anis greeted our arrival at this point, following sightings of White-rumped Monjita and a pair of Black-capped Donacobius. As we arched towards the trees, a couple of Whistling Herons were spotted in the open pasture. The trees and tall grass behind were full of birdlife. A pair of Yellow-chinned Spinetails were eventually lured close in, and two hummingbirds in the shape of Glittering-bellied & Sapphire-spangled Emerald were alternating between feeding on the flowers beyond the trees, then resting briefly on the branches. A Bran-coloured Flycatcher refused to come close, but Yellow-bellied Elaenia and Yellow-olive Flatbill were overhead. A second Yellow-browed Tyrant patrolled the locality, and a Hooded Siskin was picked up before departing.
Progress along the track from here entered some very open and hilly pasture to both sides. We stopped to try to spot Firewood Gatherer, but were only rewarded by the impressive sight of the nest – a monumental structure in the fork of a tree which apparently can house 5 pairs of birds. A passing walker had warned us that a herd of not so friendly cattle were being moved just around the corner – a poignant piece of information, since this was the location of our next stop. It has to be said that some of the steers didn’t look too friendly, and even one of the older cowpokes helping with the task showed a good turn of speed while escaping a charge. They cattle were being moved into some sheds next to the track, and it was in here that we were to look for Band-tailed Hornero. These sheds are apparently its regular favoured spot for feeding, and we did find it in the selfsame sheds after only minimal searching. Another White-rumped Monjita was on wires, with a pair of impressive Aplomado Falcons on two separate dead trees some distance away. These were a long awaited and welcome sight, since a single bird from the Texas release scheme had been seen in 2005, but couldn’t be sworn to have wild credentials. Tawny-headed Swallow was also expected here, and one was duly picked out from the attending Blue-and-white Swallows. A White-tailed Hawk which had been perched was hovering in the distance.
Despite being just turned 2pm, it was now time for lunch, and we had this while stopping somewhat further on surrounded by close hills overlooking a marshy pasture. Hirundines were here again, with Blue-and-white & Southern Rough-winged Swallows being joined by three more Tawny-headed Swallows. We ate our sandwiches on the move while searching for more birds, and were quickly rewarded by another brace of Whistling Herons. A couple of Blackish Rails were entertaining us with their chase me chase you antics. On the track itself were Masked Water Tyrant, Chalk-browed Mockingbird and Rufous Hornero
The drive to the site of the Three-toed Jacamars found us leaving the track and rejoining a tarmacked road, and then travelling for about 15 minutes to eventually park at a nondescript group of smallholdings. This was backed by a couple of open sand faces, which apparently are where the birds reside. We were very optimistic about seeing them, but expected something of a wait. Not so! A quick blast of Jacamar song from the MP3 player and a pair of birds were almost instantaneously within sight. They are said to stay loyal to their nest site all year, and their confiding and sedentary behaviour couldn’t argue with this. We spent some time watching these enigmatic endemics, but also found some good birds here in addition. More Blue-winged Parrotlets graced the Jacamar tree, as did a pair of Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatchers and single Glittering-bellied Emerald. The same was true for a White-barred Piculet, and Yellow-olive Flatbill. The area where this track met the main road was fairly wet, and played host to drinking Saffron Finches, Rufous Hornero, and Chalk-browed Mockingbird. Red-rumped Caciques and Guira Cuckoo passed through, and a Blue-black Grassquit was seen on the opposite side of the road. Last two notable birds seen before leaving were a female White-headed Marsh Tyrant and flythrough Roadside Hawk.