Up High, a Diadem
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.