Monday, August 04, 2008

Up High, a Diadem

Chuck Hagner, editor of Birder's World, and BOTB (pointing) near the top of Agulhas Negras.

The afternoon of Day 2 in Brazil:
We made our way to the top of the Picas das Agulhas Negras looking, for a bird known as a great pampa finch. We parked next to a military outpost, walked past the roadblock and down a rocky dirt road toward the peaks. The air was thin here above 8,000 feet and it was still cold, though we were warmed somewhat by the sun, which was approaching the mid-day position in the sky. Even so, frost lingered on the grass in shaded areas on the roadside.
Frost-covered grass.

The occasional breeze did little to carry or to conceal bird song—there was none. A few rufous-collared sparrows flitted across the road. No sight or sound of the pampa finch. Paulo suggested we head back to the military building to have our lunch. Maybe we'd have better luck on full stomachs.

As we walked back up the hill to the bus and building, I answered Nature's call and stepped off into the underbrush. As is almost always the case, I was not yet done when the shouts of the others reached my ears. Whizzing over, and much lighter on my feet, I raced to the group's location. There, teed up on a bare branch, was the great pampa finch, looking like the ill-bred spawn of a junco and a green towhee. At last a bird that wanted its pitcher took. Or is it tooken?

Great pampa finch.

I stayed on the bird for the next ten minutes of so while the others grabbed their lunches and found sunny spots on the lee side of the outpost building for eating. Cesar, our driver, grabbed my small camera to take a photo of our lunch party.
Lunching in the warm sun. Photo by Cesar.

While the others continued masticating (look it up) I took my big camera on a walk back up the road. The great pampa finch flew from under a jeep and landed in a patch of grass. Another bird followed. It was a diademed tanager! Both birds were eating the leaves of some tiny succulent plant growing there. It must have been a special food item because both birds stayed focused on eating, allowing me to approach (sliding on my behind across the rocky road) within four feet.

Diademed tanager.

The tanager's iridescent blue color, dark face, and the fact that it was often half-in and half-out of the bright sunlight made it quite a challenge to get a decent photo. But I managed to get a few.
A diadem is a crown. So you can see how this bird got its name.

Paulo shouted to me that it was time to head back down the mountain. The others were already on the bus, so I reluctantly left an incredibly stunning bird—one I'd only just added to my life list a few hours before—and we headed off in a cloud of dust.

White-tailed hawk.

On the way back down we ran into soaring white-tailed hawks. They were turning lazy circles over a massive valley that was wearing a layer of clouds. It might have been the first time I've watched a buteo soaring above me, yet we were both above the clouds.

Other things were rising into the sky, too. The full moon made a late afternoon appearance, making this barren habitat above the treeline look even more like a moonscape.

We made a few more stops on the way down adding a few more birds. Then we reached the highway. The smooth road (at last) warm sunlight coming in the windows, and the hum of the diesel engine were too much—I dozed off.

More about the adventures on the way home in my next post.

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At 9:52 AM, Anonymous NCmountainwoman said...

And you went "whizzing" over? Too funny.

As usual, you have given us lovely photographs of birds we likely will never see. Great post.

At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Mary said...

LOL! Yeah, mid-whiz!

The tanager is striking. I can understand why you hated to leave. The photo of the moon is so dreamy.

I believe it's tooken.

At 12:24 PM, Anonymous Eva said...

Great stories and wonderful pictures. Thanks for sharing this with the rest of us.

At 6:25 PM, Anonymous Beverly said...

LOL He said whizzing!

He also said "It might have been the first time I've watched a buteo soaring above me..." but I bet he meant "...might NOT have been..."

Yeah, very lovely photos (as usual). Thank you so much for sharing. Even the whizzing part! Sheeshhhhhhhhhhh


At 7:20 PM, Anonymous KatDoc said...

Everyone already did the "whizzing" jokes, so I will just add - masticating is a funny word. Be careful how you say it!

I don't see what is so "great" about the pampa finch, but that diademed tanager - Whee-hah! Gorgeous. You couldn't get it in your day pack and bring it home, I suppose? That's what Zick would have done if it was an orchid.

Terrific birds, and photos.


At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Julie Zickefoose said...

I don't know what you're talking about, Katdoc.

The images conjured by your choice of words in this post are quintessential BOTB. You're whizzing, you're scooching along on your're getting to those birds.

I think the committee might have put a different bill on that diademed tanager; it looks like it got a bit shortchanged. Like maybe that designer wasn't as intelligent as the one who designed the red-legged honeycreeper. But he had a faaabulous color sense.

I think it's "tookened."

At 6:45 AM, Anonymous Jayne said...

WOW! That finch and tanager made day I am sure! It's so much fun to see something that others view as common and soak in the beauty. Thanks for taking us along Bill.

At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Beverly said...

I'm not sure we should have words like 'whizzing' and 'soak' all in the same conversation!

At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Rondeau Ric said...

Tooken is correct. Great birds Bill. If I wasn't Canadian I’d be jealous.


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